Stomach Ulcers: Do Natural Remedies Work?

Posted by – June 21, 2011

Fascinating Experiments proudly presents …. Squiffy’s guide to stomach ulcers, stomach infections and their treatment.

Before we start, let me tell you how I got into this strange subject in the first place. To cut a long story short, a while ago I took to drinking vast amounts of coffee for reasons that are best left unexplored. Eventually I developed some kind of stomach infection. Lots of my acquaintances also had stomach infections around the same time. I saw a doctor who assured me it wasn’t serious and prescribed antacids, but they didn’t help much ….

The up-side of this is that I gathered the information that I now present to you here. The murky and confusing world of stomach ulcers and infections is a surprisingly interesting one with a rather interesting history, even if you don’t have a stomach ulcer.

As you might imagine, given that stomach problems are just about the commonest reason for people going to see a doctor, there is a thriving alternative health industry that aims to sell people all kinds of herbs and potions for their stomach complaints. But do they actually work? Here, Fascinating Experiments takes a look at some of these alleged cures and explores the science (or lack thereof) behind them.

A quick disclaimer is in order: I am not a doctor and this page should not be taken to constitute medical advice. If you have a stomach problem, please see a doctor. If your doctor can’t help you but he or she is sure there’s nothing too badly wrong with you, welcome to the whacky world of alternative stomach health treatments.

Please also note that we’re going to be talking here about a fairly specific problem, as discussed in the following paragraphs. To your chagrin or possibly relief, this page does not deal with diarrhoea, intestinal problems or anything that occurs below the stomach.

A Brief History of Stomach Ulcers

A stomach ulcer is much like a mouth ulcer, except you find it – no prizes for guessing this – in the stomach. Or in the duodenum, which is the part of the intestine that the stomach empties into. Duodenal and gastric (stomach) ulcers are known collectively as peptic ulcers. Unfortunately peptic ulcers are rather more serious than mouth ulcers, due to the fact that they are exposed to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Some people say that a stomach ulcer will be worse after eating (when the stomach pumps in acid to digest food), while a duodenal ulcer will be worse when the stomach is empty. Whether this is actually true or not is however somewhat unclear.

It used to be thought that stomach ulcers were caused by stress and bad diet. If you’re old enough, or watch enough old TV, maybe you can recall TV series from the 70s or 80s in which a hard-working whisky-swigging man frequently gripped his stomach and complained about the ulcer that his stressful work had given him. Probably the same guy would have a drinks cabinet in his office and would automatically offer a shot of scotch to anyone who stopped by, before tucking into a cigarette. Interesting time, the 70s. And we haven’t even touched on the green-and-brown decor that prevailed throughout.

In 1982, two Australian doctors published a paper in which they claimed that stomach ulcers were in fact caused by a nasty little bacterium, Helicobacter pylori. It had long been observed that this bacteria colonised stomach ulcers, but it was thought that the colonisation was secondary to the development of the ulcer. After all, the stomach contains hydrochloric acid capable of dissolving steel. How could any bacteria possibly survive such harsh conditions for long enough to cause a stomach ulcer? The paper wasn’t well received. Undeterred, Marshall drunk a culture of Helicobacter and promptly developed an ulcer, which he cured using antibiotics. Pretty impressive. Nevertheless, medical science as practised on you and me tended to rather ignore these findings well into the 90s.

Now it is considered well-established that 90% of stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter. The other 10% are largely caused by drugs that erode the lining of the stomach, such as aspirin. The stomach is covered in a wall of mucus that protects it from the deadly acid that it uses to digest food. The cunning little Helicobacter drills into this mucus and produces neutralising ammonia to protect itself. Crafty! We now know, in fact, that other bacteria too can infect the stomach, but Helicobacter is one of the most common. Actually, most people who are infected with Helicobacter don’t develop an ulcer and are unaware of the infection. The infection rate in Western countries apparently pretty much matches age; that is, at age 20, 20% of people are infected, at age 40, 40%, and so on. Presumably if you live to be 101, the laws of physics break down ….

If you haven’t got an ulcer (and if you have you may not even know about it — although if you’ve got hideous gnawing pain in your stomach coupled with terrible bloating, that could be a bit of a giveaway), should you worry about Helicobacter? Hard to say. Since Helicobacter doesn’t cause stomach ulcers in most people, it would seem that other factors are at work; possibly stress and bad diet being among them. High salt intake (irritating the stomach lining), alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are all risk factors, which brings to mind the stressed hard-drinking 70s TV series guy mentioned above. You may well have a Helicobacter infection and suffer not a stomach ulcer, but other stomach infection symptoms — pain, nausea, etc. Or you may have no symptoms at all.

Over time, Helicobacter can weaken and thin the stomach lining. It can also, most worryingly, dramatically increase your chances of eventually dying of stomach cancer, and stomach cancer is already a very common form of cancer. This is possibly the most worrying thing about Helicobacter. On the other hand, it appears to decrease your risk of esophageal cancer, if that’s any consolation. Maybe this is due to the ammonia it produces neutralizing stomach acid.

Humankind has clearly lived with Helicobacter for a very, very long time. Our stomachs have sort of come to expect it. Without it, they may even feel a little lost. Maybe your immune system relishes having some such thing to work on.

On the negative side, stomach ulcers appear to be associated with Parkinson’s Disease (they produce toxins which seem to destroy cells in the brain) and heart disease.

OK, the positives are looking vague and intangible, while the negatives are pretty damn negative. But what can you do to get rid of Helicobacter, or at least suppress it? That would seem to be a very apposite question, given that being infected with it can really screw you up in ways that you may not even have considered before reading this article.

For God’s Sake Go and See a Doctor

If you actually have anything more than mild stomach problems, please go and see a doctor. Antibiotics, coupled with antacids, can actually eradicate Helicobacter in most cases (at least two thirds). That’s right, eradicate. You can be completely rid of the thing. However, antibiotics carry their own risks, so doctors won’t usually prescribe them unless it looks to be pretty clear that you’ve got a stomach ulcer and not, say, acid reflux from eating too much late at night, or gastritis from boozing too much (possibly while smoking) or some kind of general irritation of the stomach lining due to drinking twenty cups of coffee a day or whatever.

That leaves a large number of people who may suffer periodically with mild-to-annoying stomach problems, which they may suspect are caused by Helicobacter, but who are not in line to be given antibiotics. Maybe you sometimes suffer hyperacidity, mild nausea or stomach ache. Maybe your grandomother died of stomach cancer and you’ve decided you’d rather not go the same way, but would prefer to take your chances with, say, a heart attack when you get ready to pop your clogs.

Or maybe, more worryingly, you’ve already take antiobiotics, you’re seeing a doctor regularly because you have stomach ulcer-type symptoms, your doctor tells you he can’t find anything seriously wrong and can’t help you any further ….

In short, what can you do to eradicate or suppress a stomach infection and hopefully decrease your chances of it developing into something more serious? Now you’re into the territory of “alternative health”, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw all reason out of the window, become a hippy and take to wearing sandals at all times. Far from it. Science still has a lot to tell you.

Stomach Ulcer, Gastritis and Heartburn – Good Things and Bad Things

The remedies we’ll consider here can be lumped into two categories; remedies aimed at alleviating symptoms and remedies aimed at curing the underlying condition by somehow eradicating or suppressing stomach bacteria. These two categories aren’t completely separate, because treating the symptoms (excessive stomach acid leading to burning sensations, for instance) may allow the stomach to heal and throw off any infection.

Let’s also take a look at some things that tend to make stomach infections worse or to cause them in the first place.

Things That You Might Want to Avoid

Alcohol: There have always been people around who insist that alcohol is ‘good for you’. I’ve got news for you: it isn’t. It never has been. In recent years a lot of retrospective studies have been done on groups of people, to try to determine how the death rate from various diseases compares to the amount the group drinks. The results of these studies are horribly difficult to interpret. Initially it seemed as though teetotalers were far more likely to die of various causes than drinkers. Then it was realised that teetotalers as a group includes people who don’t drink because they are recovering alcoholics or because they can’t afford to drink, or because their health isn’t strong enough to withstand alcohol. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to reliably account for these kinds of statistical nuisances. Alcohol in moderate amounts may reduce the risk of a heart attack in people with certain types of heart problems — or it may not, depending on how you dice and slice the statistics.

One thing can definitely be said: alcohol is bad for the lining of the stomach and will increase your risk of a stomach ulcer or chronic stomach infection of the type that can lead to stomach cancer. If you already have a stomach ulcer, cut the booze — unless you have a death wish.

Smoking: I know this page is starting to sound like it was written by a puritan, but smoking is also a major risk factor for stomach ulcers. The precise reason for this is unknown. One possibility is that enough smoke manages to make its way down the esophagus, at least in some smokers, to mess with the stomach lining. Another possibility has to do with vitamin C: as we’ll see later, for reasons that are entirely unknown, vitamin C seems to be powerfully protective against stomach ulcers, and smoking destroys vitamin C. In an effort to combat the “oxidative stress” that smoking places on your body, your body ends up using more vitamin C than you can shake a stick at.

Stress: Once fingered as the cause of stomach ulcers, stress has now been relegated to a back seat, and debates continue to rage over whether or not stress is implicated in allowing Helicobacter and its friends to get a hold. Certainly stress causes adrenalin (epinephrine) to be produced, which slows or stops digestion and has a generally profound effect on the stomach. If you’re very stressed, consider taking up meditation. Or something.

Caffeine: Oh no! Don’t say it’s true. Even tea and coffee are bad for stomach ulcers and heartburn. Caffeine increases stomach acid levels and relaxes the sphincter (valve) that stops acid from your stomach getting into your esophagus. Which means pain.

Tomatoes and tomato-based foods: OK so you’ve had to lay off the booze, fags and coffee, but surely you can still kick back with a nice tomato in the evening, right? Wrong! Whether tomatoes are bad for gastric ulcers is not entirely clear (they are generally said to be so, but I have no idea why); they are however certainly bad for heartburn and probably for duodenal ulcers too. The reason for this is that tomatoes, like caffeine, cause a relaxation of the sphincter muscles that keep your stomach acid where it’s supposed to be.

Overeating: Overeating, it goes without saying, puts undesirable stress on your digestive system, encourages the production of stomach acid and tends to cause acid reflux (heartburn). Don’t do it.

Cured meats: Cured meats are generally cured with nitrates, which can turn into cancer-causing nitrosamines in your stomach. This may be especially likely if your stomach acid levels are low due to having a persistent Helicobacter infection. So while cured meats may not bother your ulcer, if you have an ulcer you’d be well advised to go easy on them, due to your already hugely-enhanced chances of getting stomach cancer. Bad news, I know. Sorry! Cured meats means bacon, ham and even sausages. But the good news is, if you literally follow all the advice on this page, you will probably achieve enlightenment by next week due to the extreme monk-like purity of your lifestyle. So that’s something.

Milk and milk products: Bit of a double-edged sword this one. Milk and yogurt temporarily neutralize stomach acid, but also encourage the stomach to produce more of the stuff — meaning you might feel OK for a while, then end up in a worse state an hour or two later on.

NSAIDS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are capable of causing stomach ulcers in themselves, without any other risk factors being present. If you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer, don’t take them. Unless you have a death wish. And you like pain. A lot.

Salt: There’s some evidence that salt is a risk factor for stomach ulcers, surprisingly. In fact, some research suggests that coffee, long fingered as a prime suspect, may be relatively blameless when compared to salt. Excess salt presumably irritates the lining of the stomach, allowing Helicobacter to get a hold.

Remedies that Treat the Symptoms

Apple cider vinegar: Now here’s a strange thing. You’d think that acid of any sort would be the last thing a person with heartburn, gastritis or stomach ulcer would want to consume. Apple cider is of course rather acidic; and yet a search on Google quickly reveals that lots of people with stomach problems swear that apple cider relieves their symptoms and can even, in some cases, effect a cure. Some say that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is the stuff you need. For those without a degree in apple ciderology, basically apple cider vinegar is vinegar made from apple cider, instead of from wine or by synthetic methods. You can buy apple cider in supermarkets; it looks and tastes pretty much like normal vinegar except it’s more apple-colored. If you go to a health food shop, you can buy the unpasteurized hippy variety; this generally has a cloudy appearance.

Why would would apple cider vinegar help with stomach problems of a type that are made worse by acid? A popular theory floating about on the Internet says that people who think they have too much stomach acid, in fact have too little of it. By consuming apple cider vinegar, the acidity of your stomach is increased and your esophageal sphincter then starts closing properly.

I think this theory sound batty. It’s possible, of course, that apple cider contains substances that actually kill Helicobacter, but given the relatively-swift relief that this vinegar is claimed to provide, this seems unlikely. More likely, it seems to me, is that the addition of apple cider vinegar to the acid in your stomach actually makes it less acid. The acid in your stomach is known as hydrochloric acid and it has a pH of 1. That means that it’s as acid as acid can be. Certainly it could be a lot more concentrated, but concentrated or not, your stomach acid can eat through steel given enough time. Add water to it and it still has a pH of 1; it’s just more dilute and so will take longer to dissolve steel nails, or your stomach lining.

But add a weak acid (such as the acetic acid in vinegar) to a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid, and the pH actually goes up; in other words, it becomes less acid.

At least — I think that’s the case; it would be nice if a chemist could confirm or refute this theory; it’s a long time since I studied this stuff. Or better still, someone with some hydrochloric acid, some vinegar and pH testing papers.

Why? Acids actually consist of groups of atoms that include at least one hydrogen atom. The core of a hydrogen atom is a thing called a proton. What happens is, these protons — think of them as being not unlike biting ants, but smaller — tend to wander off and randomly attack whatever’s around, be it your stomach lining or whatever. Normally of course your stomach protects itself using a layer of mucus, but an ulcer is fully exposed to these nasty little critters.

In a strong acid, such as the hydrochloric acid that your stomach produces, pretty much all the protons in the acid are wandering around freely at any given time. That’s what makes the acid strong. Dilute it and they’re still out there, looking for trouble; it’s just that they are more widely dispersed.

In a weak acid, lots of these protons are stuck to other atoms and can’t get away to cause trouble. Mix a strong acid with a weak acid and, if I remember my chemistry correctly, the clusters of atoms that make up the weak acid tend to attract the protons of the strong acid and, in a nutshell, limit the amount of damage they can do.

If this theory is correct, of course, ordinary vinegar may be as effective as apple cider vinegar. Or else perhaps apple cider vinegar contains an acid — malic acid, perhaps — that somehow does the job more effectively. Or perhaps the taste of apple cider vinegar is just a lot less repulsive than that brown stuff you put on your chips.

Whatever the whys and wherefores, if you want to try apple cider vinegar for your indigestion or heart burn, do not drink it neat. That’s asking for trouble. Mix one or two tablespoons with a glass of water (warm water is typically mentioned) and drink it through a straw, trying not to let it touch your teeth. Repeat two or three times as necessary. Pain relief is said not to be instant, but to occur over some period of time. Some people recommend drinking one glass of this concoction morning and evening, an hour before eating. Does it work?

Well, it’s unlikely to cure your stomach ulcer, if that’s your problem. Really you need antibiotics for a permanent cure. But it really does seem to work extremely well when it comes to settling an acid stomach. It works for acid reflux, and probably it can reduce the pain of a stomach ulcer. The relief generally isn’t immediate, but when it comes, it lasts longer and seems more complete than if you’d taken antacids. This may be due to the acid-buffering effects of vinegar, who knows. If your stomach is too acid or you have heartburn, I strongly recommend this stuff.

Apples: Some people, including me, find that apples are incredibly effective at relieving heartburn. As to why — maybe the acid in them actually somewhat neutralizes stomach acid, as outlined in the above theory, and I suspect that chewed-up apples, which contain a “gelling agent” called pectin, actually act as a mechanical barrier to stomach acid getting into your esophagus, floating on top of your stomach contents. At any rate, apples are good for you so don’t hesitate to give them a try.

Milk: As mentioned above, milk is a double-edged sword. A glass of milk and an apple may relieve heartburn symptoms, but milk may actually make your symptoms worse later on by stimulating your stomach to produce more acid.

Probiotic Fermented Milk Products: A double-edged sword, for the same reason as milk. However, there is some evidence that “probiotic” yogurts and milk products, especially those containing live bacteria, may facilitate the healing of gastric ulcers and increase the thickness of the mucus that lines the stomach to a modest extent.

From hereon in I’ll include a few references to scientific studies where appropriate, but don’t hesitate to search Pubmed yourself if you want more information.

Yogurt containing Lactobacillus gasseri OLL 2716 (LG21 yogurt) accelerated the healing of acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer in rats.
Probiotic bacteria Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917 attenuates acute gastric lesions induced by stress.
Effect of Bifidobacterium bifidum fermented milk on Helicobacter pylori and serum pepsinogen levels in humans.

Antacids: Not necessarily a natural product of course, but antacids are helpful in healing stomach ulcers. They neutralize the stomach’s acid, allowing your ulcer to get a little breathing space to heal.

Proton Pump Inhibitors and H2 antagonists: OK, these are totally unnatural and don’t entirely fit with the theme of this article, but I’m including them here for the sake of completeness. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists (Zantac for instance) are pharmaceuticals that decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed as part of a stomach ulcer treatment regime, along with antibiotics, while H2 antagonists are available from your local chemist. Both can potentially have side-effects, but the side effects generally aren’t as bad as those due to an untreated stomach ulcer! (There’s a little British understatement going on there, in case you missed it …)

Changing Your Diet: This is really a subject that deserves a whole website all to itself. Needless to say, it’s best to avoid anything that makes your stomach hurt, and try to eat things that don’t make it hurt. A stomach ulcer is unfortunately a huge risk factor for stomach cancer, which is already one of the most common cancers around, so you might want to think about changing your diet long-term to lower your risk of stomach cancer. See below for more details. Basically you might want to consider getting plenty of fruit and vegetables, most especially vegetables in the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and of course cabbage. Consider eating raw onions if your stomach feels OK with them, and get plenty of fibre and vitamin C. If you’re careful, you can eventually die of a stroke or heart attack rather than having your insides dissolved by stomach acid as the cancer eats you away from the inside. Sweet.

Remedies Intended to Cure the Problem

Garlic and Raw onions: It’s crazy but it’s true, a diet high in raw onions seems to significantly decrease your risk of dying of stomach cancer, which is something you should be grateful for if you have a stomach ulcer. Or of course it could just be that only people with strong stomachs eat raw onions. Garlic actually kills Helicobacter in vitro. Here, a side note is in order. Many substances kill germs in vitro, that is to say, in a test tube. Sadly most of these prove useless in vivo, that is, in actual living organisms. Garlic kills Helicobacter in vitro, at concentrations that could be reached in your stomach via the consumption of one clove of raw garlic (enough to clear a 2-meter space around you even in the London Tube). For that matter, hydrochloric acid kills Helicobacter in vitro, but is sadly ineffective in vivo. In vitro results therefore have to be taken with a big pinch of salt. Nevertheless, consumption of allium vegetables (onions, shallots, leeks, garlic — but especially onions) does seem to correlate negatively with stomach cancer, so if you like raw onion and your partner has no sense of smell, consider eating it a lot.

Consumption of Large Amounts of Allium Vegetables Reduces Risk for Gastric Cancer in a Meta-Analysis.
Allium vegetables and stomach cancer risk in China
Consumption of onions and a reduced risk of stomach carcinoma

Expensive herbal preparations: While one can’t rule out that there could be some kind of herbal preparation unknown to science that secretly cures stomach ulcers, most cases of alleged cures through dodgy herbal preparations are mostly likely cases where Nature did the healing and the herbs were merely an expensive bystander. Save your money. As you’ll see if you read this page, your best chances of staving off or even curing ulcer- or bacteria-related stomach problems, aside from antibiotics, lie with foods and substances that are cheap and widely available.

Manuka honey: Manuka honey is honey from New Zealand from bees that have fed off the manuka tree (also known, along with other plants, as the “tea tree”). Manuka honey kills Helicobacter in vitro, but it might well be useless in vivo. It’s also expensive, so unless you have money to burn, you might be better off spending your cash on something more effective. Manuka honey does, according to some studies, help to heal certain types of leg ulcers when applied directly, but the prospects of it curing your stomach ulcer are dubious. In summary, manuka honey can’t be written off, yet, but at the moment it’s unclear whether it actually helps stomach problems or not.

Mastic: Mastic is a kind of gum obtained from a certain tree and used in Greek cooking. As with manuka honey and lots of other things, it kills Helicobacter in vitro. Mastic is a traditional remedy for dyspepsia, and does seem to help calm the stomach. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I was all ready to pen a summary writing mastic off. It’s just too easy to get carried away with the idea that traditional remedies, proven effective in vitro, might actually help in vivo, when in fact often they don’t. But there’s enough scientific evidence now to suggest that mastic actually does help to suppress and even eradicate Helicobacter. On the other hand, some studies find that it doesn’t help at all. What’s going on here? I don’t know.

The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study.
The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study
Is Chios mastic gum effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia? A prospective randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial.
Monotherapy with mastic does not eradicate Helicobacter pylori infection from mice.
A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer.

Green tea: Green tea is another of those things that can kill Helicobacter in a test tube, but probably not in human beings. A large study in Japan failed to find any inverse relationship between green tea consumption and deaths from stomach cancer, which you’d expect to find if green tea had any effect on Helicobacter

A prospective study of stomach cancer death in relation to green tea consumption in Japan.
Inhibitory Potential of Tea Polyphenolics and Influence of Extraction Time Against Helicobacter pylori and Lack of Inhibition of Beneficial Lactic Acid Bacteria.
Green tea and the risk of gastric cancer in Japan.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc) suppress Helicobacter and seem to be associated with a decreased risk of dying of stomach cancer. Great news. Sadly this confirms the terrible truth that you already suspected …. we should be eating less sausages and more cabbage. “But sausages are so tasty!” I hear you cry. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger ….

Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan.
Baby broccoli ‘controls gut bug’

Cranberry juice: Cranberry juice can apparently suppress Helicobacter in vivo, in addition to suppressing bladder infections. Whether or not that sugary stuff sold in supermarkets as “cranberry drink” has the same effect is another matter. The effect isn’t massive, but it’s strong enough to make cranberry juice worth drinking if you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer.

Efficacy of cranberry juice on Helicobacter pylori infection: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial.

Vitamin C: Finally we come to a surprise late entry in the semi-natural Helicobacter suppression championships: vitamin C. Vitamin C has an interesting history even aside from Helicobacter, from the gradual emergence of the recognition that cetain foods contain something that can prevent that dreaded disease of sailors — no not syphilis, but the other one, scurvy — to its isolation by Hungarian and American researchers around 1930. In the 1960s, twice Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling became somewhat irrationally convinced that massive doses of vitamin C were important for good health and have the ability to prevent colds. Years of research proving that vitamin C cannot prevent colds has subsequently failed to eradicate the association in people’s minds between vitamin C and cold prevention. Vitamin C occupies a similarly controversial position with respect to Helicobacter, some studies finding that vitamin C can help to eradicate Helicobacter (one study even claimed that vitamin C alone at 5g per day eradicates Helicobacter in 30% of subjects), while other studies find no effect at all.

What the devil is going on here? Damned if I know. Maybe it’s the usual story — wishful thinking skewing research results in favour of remedies that the researchers want to work. Or maybe vitamin C works on some types of people, under some circumstances. Hard to say.

Effects of high dose vitamin C treatment on Helicobacter pylori infection and total vitamin C concentration in gastric juice.
The efficacy of Helicobacter pylori eradication regimen with and without vitamin C supplementation.
The effect of 5-year vitamin C supplementation on serum pepsinogen level and Helicobacter pylori infection.
[Effect of vitamin C administration on gastric colonization by Helicobacter pylori].
Adjuvant effect of vitamin C on omeprazole-amoxicillin-clarithromycin triple therapy for Helicobacter pylori eradication.
Effect of addition of vitamin C to clarithromycin-amoxicillin-omeprazol triple regimen on Helicobacter pylori eradication.

The Squiffy Method for Not Dying of Stomach Cancer

No prizes for guessing that vitamin C gets my star recommendation when it comes to substances that might actually eradicate or seriously suppress Helicobacter, short of antibiotics. Unfortunately it might easily be totally useless since the studies on it are contradictory, but at least it’s cheap, and there’s as much or more evidence to support its efficacy than for more expensive remedies such as manuka honey and mastic. Apples can also be very useful in preventing heart burn, and to really increase your stomach health long term, consider eating cruciferous vegetables, raw or cooked, several times a week. Raw onions are also a good idea for your long-term stomach health, if your stomach will tolerate them; just don’t breathe on anyone within 24 hours of eating them if you want to keep your friends. Mastic gum capsules may or may not help — it’s very unclear. Given the expense of mastic, you might be better off sticking with vitamin C, which is dirt cheap. And finally, apple cider vinegar may help settle your stomach and stave off those gut-wrenching acute attacks — you know, the ones where you’re rolling about in pain with a hideous bloated feeling in your stomach, while a small animal gnaws at your insides. And staving off those can’t be a bad thing, can it? If there’s one “natural” remedy on this whole page that I can heartily recommend to help with acid-related symptoms (although it probably won’t cure an ulcer), it’s apple cider vinegar.

An Important Footnote

I’ve spoken throughout this article as though all forms and manifestations of Helicobacter infection — gastritis, stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers — are basically the same; that is, they have similar symptoms and result in similar outcomes. But this is really not the case, and in fact I became aware after completing most of this article that while gastric (stomach) ulcers are a significant risk factor for stomach cancer, duodenal ulcers are not, and in fact may even protect against stomach cancer!

The risk of stomach cancer in patients with gastric or duodenal ulcer disease.

Duodenal ulcers (occurring in the upper part of the intestine where the stomach empties into it) occur typically in younger people than gastric ulcers and are regarded as far less serious. As mentioned earlier, some say that a stomach ulcer will hurt when you eat, while a duodenal ulcer will hurt when your stomach is empty. This may or may not be true. Only an endoscopy can tell you for sure whether you’ve got an ulcer or not, and what kind if so.

You can also find many references to heartburn in this article. A gnawing pain in your stomach could easily be due to heartburn (acid reflux), stomach ulcer, duodenal ulcer or something else. Of course, go and see a doctor — but if you’ve seen a doctor already or your problem isn’t serious enough to warrant a doctor, maybe the ideas on this page can help you sort your stomach out.

And finally, before you panic too much about your real or imagined H. pylori infection, it’s worth bearing in mind the wise words of Professor Kenneth McColl, quoted here from the UK’s Daily Mail in regard to the home testing kits that you can find, for instance on Amazon: “Half the world’s population is infected by the H. pylori bacteria, so a positive test would not mean an ulcer”.

6 Comments on Stomach Ulcers: Do Natural Remedies Work?

  1. devon fowler says:

    Amazing write up! You’re brilliant, I am having ulcer like symptoms, and it’s mind numbing all the claims, and it literally will make a persons ulcer worse, well according to the 1970′s Brit coming home after having too much scotch and fags, (I”m American by the way.)

    Anyway, you probably are aware of the harms of so much modern medicine, and this is where it gets tricky because some modern medicine antibiotics can cure as you said, potentially life threatening ailments, however there is no substitute for prevention through eating right. The problem is we seem to be the only species of chimps, (if you buy we are indeed chimps like Richard Dawkins says,) or just a slight variant, sorry not a evolutionary biologist, but we are the only animal who needs to carefully choose their diets, and obviously this wasn’t always the case.

    One argument from the real earthy crunchy types, this one blog Surthrival is amazing, is that the battle between the diets, vegan, vs. paleo, vs vegetarian, is that humans are ominovers and capable of adapting to all kinds of crazy diets. however this is coming from a guy who is healthy and he assumes if you eat healthy organic, non GMO foods etc. you can adapt to your needs. Some claim just going with your “gut” no pun intended is the way to go on choosing which foods to eat, as many have gotten very sick on vegan, or just high animal meat consumption.

    We live in the stone age still of treating so many diseases…and so often the medicines are far more harmful than natural approaches.

    this is what drives people, who are sick like me, insane, because it takes a tremendous amount of trial and error, and often it’s impossilbe to tell if something is working in the long term, or just masking symptoms.

    So thank you for using a skeptical kind of thinking, that is rare. Science based medicine can go either way as you may know. They can be too hyperfocused on a miracle cure, and can’t see the forest for the trees.

    In your case, you seem to combine sound science thinking, with admitting, who the f knows why this or that is working for some and not others?

    At least this is more honest than 99% of blogs claiming these are highly effective treatments fo rthis and that disorder, not to metnion the scams saying cure all, ugly world we live in with regards to health and just eating well, impossible for many if not most.

    • Squiffy says:

      This is an excellent and well thought-out comment from someone who claims to be insane, Devon. I’m re-reading this article a year and a half after writing it, since it’s the most popular article on my blog (during which time my father almost died from a duodenal ulcer caused by washing down ibuprofen with whisky), and it’s great to see such a comment. Being insane may be no fun, but insane people are among the most interesting, for sure.

  2. Malcolm says:

    One more Plus for H-pylori:
    a recent study found that toxins/chemicals from HP reduce appetite!
    Maybe this is why HP has become endemic and why we acquire it progressively with age.
    The older we get the less we need to eat (generally) – and visa-versa: longevity increases if you eat less.
    And congratulations. A most fantastic page. Love your humor and style, it was a joy to read your prose. I concur on pretty well every thing you said. Yes slightly acid liquids (eg oranges) do help when taken with food. The Apple cider also keeps the teeth real squeaky clean.

    Have had HP-ulcer for 18 months and believe I have found the missing factor. I was a bit surprised by the number of trials I found had similar success rates: 70% 30 days, 85% 60 days. Also I tried various cures for myself, then combined the ones that seemed beneficial to see if I could affect a cure. I don’t care if HP wants to stay, just need to kill the ulcer so I can get some good sleep and my life back. Surprisingly the amalgamated treatments did not increase the benefit.

    There is a book “Ulcer free!: nature’s safe & effective remedy for ulcers” and the cure is, Zinc-carnosine. It is a patented (funny about that) product and marketed as “Metagenics Zinlori 75″. You believe? Don’t.
    If I remember, the book quoted 75% ulcers cure in 30 days and 85% in 60 days. I tried it – had no effect what so ever. Also found other people that had tried it – similar results.

    The most effective treatment I have found is simple.
    Make sure you chew your food very well. “Urrrr” I hear.
    Yeaaar – no body wants to be told to eat more slowly.
    However, this is most easily achieved using the following method:
    Eat at a table, while sitting on dining chars (yes, they are important), and eat your meal while engaging in relaxed (not hurried) meal time conversation during two or more courses of food. A small amount of wine/cider also helps.
    The reason this formula sounds sophisticated is because sophisticated people worked out long ago how food should be eaten.
    The problem with modern people – they are modern and loosing their skills to live well.
    Unfortunately for me, I have few friends and do not get to eat communally very often.
    But my life is much improved with this methodology.

    My theory.
    It is all to do with maximizing the amount of saliva ingested with the food.
    Also reduce protein intake – less protein means less stomach acid.
    And, eat like a king for breakfast, like a servant for lunch and a poorpa for diner. An old saying.
    Stomach ulcers do heal of their own accord, albeit given the above conditions.

    So why does the web have so many “cures”. I suspect that many people have found their ulcer healed while they were on: a Banana diet, or when they sipped cider with their meals etc. etc.
    I suggest, it wasn’t the particular food but the way they ate it. I suspect many people eat more carefully when they are trying a different diet.

    Milk Problem.
    The problem with modern cows milk is that it is very high in lactose. Lactose is a protein that requires a large amount of acid for digestion. This was not true 70+ years ago thanks to ai and modern economics.
    In Australia there is a milk called “a2″ which helps many people that have gastric problems.
    “a2″ milk is an old world milk and has a different make up of proteins.
    I am thinking that the old cure for Ulcers, namely: milk and dairy, was probably true a hundred years ago – but not today. And yes, when I use Lactose free milk I am better.

    Once again, great to read some real good down to earth horse sense.

    • Squiffy says:

      Thanks. Very interesting to hear about a2 milk. It’s strange how our food has changed. We’re also eating a lot of stuff now that’s full of additives; the additives may be bad in themselves, but worse in a way is the fact that we can no longer effectively judge the quality of what we’re eating.

      • Mark says:

        A2 Milk. It was a discovery made by Prof Bob Elliot in New Zealand. A@ is a NZ owned corp.
        I can report anecdotal evidence of A2 benefits. I had a nagging pain for many years. NO medical test over 23 years could tell what it was, finally a new doctor suggested I try going off dairy – a throwaway comment. I did for a month and then commenced dairy but only A2.

        My offspring also get the same thing.

        The “proof” finally came when I consumed some sushi that had rice prepared with a lactose binder – The first time the pain appeared the day after and was epic. I didn’t learn the lesson and did it twice more before it was obvious. The Lactose binder appears to be a cheap and nasty way to avoid using the right rice and it’s preparation.

        Goat and Buffalo milk are naturally A2 and until selective breeding and hybrising began in the early 20th century I understand almost all cows were A2 positive.


    • Squiffy says:

      Since I first read this comment, I’ve been wondering if, regarding chewing food slowly, simply not consuming very hot foods helps a lot. Chewing food a lot of course lets it cool down in the mouth. Whatever was up with my own stomach, ceasing to pour boiling hot coffee straight down my throat seems to have practically cured it, along with some apple cider vinegar from time to time to cut heartburn. Funny that I didn’t think of that before.

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