Stomach Ulcers: Lifestyle and dietary habits to avoid 

Stomach ulcers or medically known as peptic ulcer disease is a conditions in which there is a break in the inner lining of the stomach, the first part of the small intestine, or sometimes the lower oesophagus.

It seems that everyone including you or at least someone you know is complaining of stomach pains, and if they went to the clinic or hospital they would be diagnosed with stomach ulcer and given medication to heal it, however, the ulcers to a majority of people seem to return after a while despite the doctor’s promises of as long as they take these antibiotics they will not have those attacks again.

Stomach ulcers or medically known as peptic ulcer disease is a conditions in which there is a break in the inner lining of the stomach, the first part of the small intestine, or sometimes the lower oesophagus. An ulcer in the stomach is called a gastric ulcer, while one in the first part of the intestines is a duodenal ulcer

The most common presentation of a duodenal ulcer is waking at night with upper abdominal pain, which improves with eating while with a gastric ulcer, the pain may worsen with eating. The pain is often described as a burning or dull ache. Other symptoms include belching, vomiting, weight loss, or poor appetite. About a third of older people have no symptoms. 

Complications may include bleeding, perforation (creating a hole in the wall of the stomach), blockage of the stomach and worst of all even cancer. Bleeding occurs in as many as 15% of cases. 

Prevalence is higher in third-world countries, where it is estimated at 70% of the population, whereas developed countries show a maximum of 40% ratio. 

Ulcer was a condition which existed since ancient times. The main culprits who were accused were stress, spices, stomach acid and even witchcraft with a multitude of treatments including antacids and even surgeries. It was only when two Australian doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren proved that it was rather caused by a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori (named that because of its helix or spiral shape) which is found in the stomach of 50% of the world’s population.

After receiving resistance from the medical community Dr Marshall took an extreme measure where he swallowed the H. pylori bacteria to prove it, few days later he developed nausea and vomiting, after endoscopy (inserting a long tube camera in the mouth to look at the gastrointestinal system) it was proven that he had inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) due to the bacteria.

He took antibiotics for a few days which led to total healing from the infection. They were both awarded a nobel prize for their momentous and life saving discovery, while antibiotics alongside proton pump inhibitors (stop acid production) were mandated as the official treatment for peptic ulcer disease. 

The bacteria Helicobacter pylori secretes urease enzymes to create an alkaline environment, which is suitable for its survival. It expresses blood group binder, that is why people with blood group O are susceptible to ulcers, which enables it to attach to the gastric epithelium (wall). This reduction in acid production causes gastric ulcers. On the other hand, increased acid production at the pyloric antrum (end of the stomach) is associated with duodenal ulcers in 10% to 15% of H. pylori infection cases. 

Helicobacter pylori have been associated with a number of conditions including stroke, atopic dermatitis (allergy of the skin), and even anaemia (lack of blood). 

Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin can increase the risk of peptic ulcer disease by four times compared to non-users. The risk of getting a peptic ulcer is two times for aspirin users. Risk of bleeding increases if NSAIDs are combined with other drugs like steroids (given for diseases like asthma) and anticoagulants (for bleeding). The gastric mucosa protects itself from gastric acid with a layer of mucus, the secretion of which is stimulated by certain prostaglandins (hormones). 

Stress due to serious health problems, such as those requiring treatment in an intensive care unit, is well described as a cause of peptic ulcers, which are also known as stress ulcers. 

While chronic life stress occasionally is believed to play a role. This may be due to the well-documented effects of stress on stomach function, increasing the risk in those with other causes, such as H. pylori or NSAID use. 

Even though modern science has correctly identified the cause and assigned a proper treatment then why is peptic ulcer disease having a resurgence? There could be a couple of reasons that you should take into consideration to supplement the healing and thus avoid: 

  1. Over usage and prescription of painkillers especially NSAIDs like Aspirin. 
  2. Increased transmission of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori due to street food, kissing, sharing food or not washing hands. 
  3. Stress epidemic due to overworking and lack of proper sleep.
  4. Acidic diet including processed food, fast food, sugar and soda.
  5. Habitual alcohol and smoking which both lead to gastritis which after a long time can predispose to ulcers. 
  6. Obesity which leads to abnormality in the stomach hence creating a weak stomach. 
  7. Eating irregularly leading to acid release on an empty stomach, especially missing breakfast. 
  8. Eating a diet with less fiber, fiber in general reduces food time in the stomach, hence reducing the secretion of the acid. 
  9. Drinking less water, hence less dilution to the acid. 
  10. Over use and dependence on antibiotics which can lead to antibiotic resistance due to overusing it, hence reducing the effectiveness of the treatment. 

Stomach ulcer is a disease predisposed by lifestyle and systematically repeated behaviors. Apart from the prescribed medicines, Treatment should be holistic with a focus on lifestyle habits, after-meal behavior and the link that the behavior has to the disease. 

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The author; Sande Elison Oundo is the President of Vigilant Living, a counseling and coaching company

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