Three types of drugs are used to treat ulcers. The first are antacids that neutralize acid and the second are drugs that block the secretion of acid like zantac, tagamet and pepsid. The third drug is a complex salt of sucrose containing aluminum and sulfate known as sulcrafate. It forms a protective layer over the ulcer crater, and has the least side effects. However, with any of these drugs, recurrence rates are over 80 percent.
Well known author and nutritional expert Dr. Alan Gaby is concerned that while antacids may relieve symptoms, the presence of aluminum in most antacids is cause for concern. "Carefully performed studies have revealed that ingesting aluminum containing antacids increases the level of aluminum in both brain and bone tissue." He also notes that long term use of acid blocking drugs can lead to deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin-B-12.
In 1994, a revolution occurred in the treatment of peptic ulcers when researchers showed that most ulcers were caused by infection by a bacteria known as heliobacter pylori. Ulcers can now be cured in 90 percent of cases by a one week course of two antibiotics plus an acid blocker. The reoccurrence rate is five percent.
However, safe natural remedies offer some advantages for the treatment of ulcers. Licorice root or glycyrrhiza glabra is one of the most extensively investigated herbs. The medicinal uses of licorice in both Western and Eastern cultures dates back several thousand years. Licorice root is very soothing to mucous membranes.
Licorice root extract has been used widely in Europe to promote the healing of peptic ulcers. It works in a different way than other ulcer drugs. According to Dr. Michael Murray, co-author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine , licorice root extract stimulates the normal defence mechanisms that prevent ulcer formation. The extract increases the number of mucous producing cells, improves the quality of the mucous produced, increases the life span of intestinal cells, and improves blood supply to the intestinal lining.
At least fourteen double blind studies have shown the favourable results of licorice root extract compared to placebo, and even to other anti-ulcer drugs. Some patients on licorice root developed sodium and water retention, low potassium and high blood pressure due to one component of licorice root known as glycyrrhetinic acid. Glycyrrhetinic acid, by the way is 50 to 100 times sweeter than sugar.
A special licorice root extract known as "deglycyrrhinated licorice" (DGL) has been developed to retain all the positive benefits of licorice root without the negative side effects mentioned above.
DGL has another useful effect. A recent study showed that DGL inhibits heliobacter pylori, and its action was similar to that of bismuth. The drawback of antibiotics is that they do not change the conditions that led to the infection in the first place.
DGL must be mixed with saliva in order to be effective. The recommended dosage is two 380mg tablets chewed well twenty minutes before each meal.
An old naturopathic formula known as Robert's formula, although not formally tested, has a long history of use for peptic ulcer. It contains American cranesbill, cabbage, slippery elm, marshmallow and okra (which are all soothing to the mucous membranes) and echinacea and goldenseal (which have anti-bacterial properties).
Traditionally raw cabbage juice has been used for stomach ulcers, and raw potato juice for duodenal ulcers. In the 1950's Dr. Garnett Cheney of Stanford's School of Medicine studied 181 patients, and found one litre of raw cabbage juice daily to be highly beneficial. Green cabbages are best, but red cabbages can also be used and it can be mixed 50:50 with carrot and/or celery juice for flavour.
Glutamine is an amino acid found naturally in the body that helps improve the integrity of the stomach and intestinal lining. A small double blind study showed that 1,600mg of glutamine daily resulted in 100 percent healing of peptic ulcers compared to 50 percent in those taking the placebo.
Studies have shown that vitamin-C, vitamin-E and Vitamin-B-6 are low in individuals with peptic ulcers. Vitamin-A is important for the healing of all mucous membranes. Zinc appears to accelerate the healing of ulcers.
Finally, Gaby has seen a number of individuals whose ulcers did not heal properly and whose pain did not subside until they stopped eating foods to which they were allergic.
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