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Can Certain Foods Heal Ulcers and Gastritis?

by
author image Jennifer Markowitz, MD
Based outside Boston, Jennifer Markowitz received her M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and completed residency training at the Children's Hospitals of Philadelphia and Boston. She is board-certified in Pediatric Neurology and Neuromuscular Medicine. Her writing and presentations have focused on both scientific and patient audiences.

If you suffer from gastritis or its complication, peptic ulcer disease, you may be wondering whether certain foods can heal these conditions. Gastritis, or inflammation in the lining of the stomach, can be triggered by treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen. Other common causes include infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori or stress to the body, like burns or surgery. If inflammation is severe or long-lasting enough, a sore in the lining of the stomach or first part of the intestine can develop, known as a peptic ulcer. While gastritis and ulcers are treated by addressing the underlying cause and blocking damaging stomach acid, diet may also play a role in healing and preventing these conditions.

Probiotics

Helicobacter pylori causes a chronic form of gastritis that can lead to peptic ulcer disease. Probiotics -- bacteria and yeast that contribute to gut health -- may make it less likely for a person to become infected with H. pylori. According to a review published in the June 2006 issue of "Nutrition in Clinical Care," lactobacillus -- a type of probiotic found in yogurt and fermented milk products such as kefir or buttermilk -- may help with H. pylori treatment by releasing its own type of acid and sticking to the stomach lining. Other food sources of probiotics include miso soup, sauerkraut or kombucha tea. However, more research is needed to understand the role of probiotics in the prevention or management of ulcers and gastritis.

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Polyphenols

Polyphenols, compounds present in certain fruits and vegetables, help reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties. According to a review in the June 2015 issue of "World Journal of Gastroenterology," these functions may protect the stomach from damaging factors like acid, the protein-digesting chemical pepsin and cell-damaging molecules called free radicals. Authors report that polyphenols may also protect against H. pylori-related inflammation and damage that may lead to ulcers. Foods containing polyphenols include apples, grapes, pineapples, pomegranates, soy, broccoli, red onions, certain nuts and berries, turmeric and green tea. Despite their potential value, it is not known how much or what types of polyphenols a person with gastritis or an ulcer should ingest because little rigorous research in humans has been done.

Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber

Certain vitamins and minerals are important to consider if you have gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. Because of nausea, vomiting or pain, people with peptic ulcer disease and chronic gastritis may eat poorly, become malnourished and develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Treatment of underlying vitamin and mineral deficiencies aids overall healing. A deficiency of vitamin B12 -- found in meat, eggs and milk -- may be present if the stomach doesn't absorb this vitamin well, and iron deficiency may occur with H. pylori infections and bleeding from ulcers. Iron-rich foods include greens, leafy vegetables, whole grains, meats and nuts.

H. pylori infections may be more severe in people with poor immune function. An overall healthful diet is important for optimal immunity, including fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Fiber can also prevent and manage bloating and abdominal discomfort, as well as improve gastrointestinal function in general. Zinc -- found in red meat, poultry and legumes -- and selenium -- found in Brazil nuts, fish and seeds -- are known to help with healing and fighting infection.

Management

Gastritis and peptic ulcer disease are managed by treating the underlying cause, such as antibiotic treatment for H. pylori infection, stopping NSAIDs or using an acid-blocking medication for gastritis symptom relief. In addition, seek guidance from your doctor regarding alcohol use, as avoidance may be advised. Avoiding any foods that cause discomfort is useful to manage symptoms, although these trigger foods may not be the same for everyone. Foods that may aggravate symptoms include coffee, carbonated beverages and spicy, fried or acidic foods. Given the risk of malnutrition and because of the importance of optimal nutrition, consider meeting with a dietitian if you are struggling to eat well or have many food intolerances.

Warnings and Precautions

If you have persistent abdominal pain, nausea or bloating, it is important to seek medical evaluation. Chronic gastritis can lead to peptic ulcers, which if untreated can result in bleeding that can be life-threatening. Untreated chronic gastritis can also raise the risk for a certain type of stomach cancer. Seek emergency medical attention if you are experiencing severe pain, have nausea or vomiting that prevents you from eating or drinking, are vomiting bright red blood or a substance that looks like coffee grounds, have dark and tarry stools or are feeling dizzy, faint or lightheaded.

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