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June 18, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Peptic ulcers most frequently affect the stomach and the duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine. Both the stomach and the duodenum process high quantities of gastric juices. These juices have to be strong in order to break food down into digestible particles; in fact, they're composed largely of hydrochloric acid, a substance that can dissolve not just last night's dinner but body tissues as well. To protect the stomach and duodenum walls against damage from gastric acid, both organs are coated with a protective mucus layer.

In addition, bicarbonate ions are secreted by the lining of the stomach and the duodenum. Under normal conditions, this mucus layer and the alkalinizing bicarbonate ions prevent the acid from eating away at the digestive tract lining. But when the lining is too weak and there is decreased bicarbonate secretion, some of the stomach tissues may be eroded. An eroded spot is called a peptic ulcer.

Most people know that stress increases the output of gastric acid. If you have an ulcer, reducing the levels of tension and anxiety in your life will go a long way toward healing the physical wound. But many other factors can cause or contribute to ulcers as well. Some drugs are notorious for increasing acid production-most notably, aspirin and the class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, for short). People who take aspirin or NSAIDs like ibuprofen on a regular basis are at a high risk for getting stomach ulcers. Smokers develop ulcers much more often than nonsmokers do. And as with every digestive disorder, a poor diet, especially one that includes spicy foods, citrus fruits, soda pop, caffeine, and alcohol, is frequently at the root of the problem. Food allergies or sensitivities can cause problems as well. One must also consider that low antioxidant status appears to predispose one to ulcers.

The bacteria Helicobacter pylori has been strongly linked to ulcer formation. Studies show that some people with ulcers have this bacterium in the affected organ, and elimination of H. pylori often helps with healing. Antibiotic therapy, as well as natural therapies, can be very effective for this infection. Make sure to supplement with probiotics to replace the helpful bacteria that antibiotics destroy. These good bacteria also play a role in preventing H. pylori infection.

Conventional therapy generally focuses on antacid medications. This group of medications suppresses stomach acid formation. For severe acute ulcer problems, such as a bleeding ulcer, these medications can be very effective and warranted.

However, for many people these medications are prescribed on a long-term basis that does not treat the cause of the ulcer. In addition, long-term use can contribute to digestive problems in other areas of the digestive tract, as hydrochloric acid is required for protein digestion and the liquefaction of foods. Without proper stomach acid digestion, there is additional stress on the rest of the digestive organs. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Ulcers

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