The word ‘peptic’ is derived from the Greek term meaning ‘pertaining to or promoting digestion’. It is the medical term for ulceration that occurs in the mucous membranes of both the gastrum and duodenum.
Treatment of peptic ulcers therefore also covers gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers and the precursors to this condition: gastritis and duodenitis. Some inflammations and ulcers in this area are ‘silent’ -have no symptoms – but these are rare and because they are not spotted early are usually seri-
Peptic ulcers may occur either in the stomach or the duodenum. ous. Most ulcerative and pre-ulcerative conditions in this area present as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen radiating, occasionally, through to the back. The pain may also radiate into the chest and give rise to symptoms similar to heart pains. Silent ulcers are generally due to the inflammation or erosion not affecting the nerve endings. These ulcers may eat into blood vessels causing bleeding, which if profuse may cause vomiting of blood or if not so profuse a black tarry stool called melena, created by the digestion of red blood cells. The stomach is lined by cells that produce a thick mucus, which protects the stomach lining from the very aggressive hydrochloric acid produced to break down our food. A failure to produce this mucus or an overproduction of acid will lead to inflammation and potential ulcer formation. The duodenum is bathed in a strong alkaline solution, which neutralizes the small amounts of acid that are released through the pyloric sphincter, but the small intestine also has a protective mucus layer against the strong alkaline that it comes into contact with from the pancreatic juices. Excess acidity passing into the duodenum will override these defensive measures and, again, cause inflammation and the predisposition to ulcer.
Excessive hydrochloric acid is often produced in response to food allergy/intolerance, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and excess adrenaline created by stress. Damage to the protective mucosa and thereby a reduction in the protective mucus can occur through any of the above, plus excessive eating or the embibement of hot and spicy food. Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and other less commonly utilized drugs can all predispose to pre-ulcer conditions.
Recently, a specific bacterium called Helicobacter pylori has been associated with a higher chance of ulcerative and pre-ulcerative conditions. Indeed, most individuals with ulcers will have H. pylori in attendance, but by no means all. Conversely, many people carry H. pylori and have no problems with ulcerative conditions. A holistic practitioner should therefore continue to ignore the persistence of the orthodox world which supports the germ’ theory and instead understand that H. pylori may exacerbate a situation but is probably not the cause. Treating H. pylori is effective but recurrence usually occurs if the underlying weakness or dietetic problem is not dealt with. This is, of course, a good thing for the pharmaceutical industry, who encourage the frequent and costly use of two antibiotics with a powerful antacid.
Persistent burning or discomfort in the upper abdomen, chest or surrounding area should be considered a pre-ulcerative condition and treated accordingly.
Keep a diary of foods in association with the discomfort and isolate and eliminate any causative substances.
Keep the same diary for times of stress.
Specifically avoid hot, spicy, fried and refined foods. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars until the condition settles and then keep a close eye on which of these brings the symptoms back.
Foods that are hard to digest, such as raw vegetables, abrasive foods such as nuts and non-soaked wholegrains, wholemeal bread and oats should be avoided until the condition settles, despite their nutritional value.
Aim at more easily digestible foods such as soups, diluted fruit juices, soaked grains, fish and chicken. Cook your vegetables for slightly longer than one would normally encourage.
Avoid milk. It may give a temporary relief due to its alkaline properties but this causes a rebound acid production and the casein in the milk is hard to digest, which also encourages more acid production.
If the above measures are not effective, then consider some basic treatments as follows:
Make fresh cabbage juice and drink one glass before meals for two weeks. It contains vitamin P which is shown to help the healing of ulcers. Do not use this technique if you suffer from a hyperthyroid condition.
Take the following supplements, which are known to help membranes heal, in the following amounts per foot of height in divided doses with meals: beta-carotene or vitamin A , vitamin E and buffered vitamin C ; also take zinc before bed.
Slippery elm or compounds containing this should be taken as prescribed on the package .
Liquorice is healing and should be taken as prescribed on the package.
A half-tablet of an indigestion compound can be used whilst the above measures are employed, although, as with milk, there will be a rebound hyper-acidic effect. Aloe vera juice is soothing and does not encourage hydrochloric acid production in the same way.
Meditation and the associated breathing techniques that gently massage the stomach are essential when the excess acidity is stress-associated.
Persisting discomfort or any difficulty in breathing should be reviewed by a physician, who may refer the individual to a surgeon for a gastroscope or barium studies. These should be considered only in acute situations or in persistent cases where the above measures have not helped, because the treatment will inevitably be drug-induced antacid treatment with medications such as ranitidine, cimetidine or omeprazole. If H. pylori is found then triple therapy – two antibiotics and bismuth – will be employed which may be curative but very often is not for the reasons described above.