Inflammation in the stomach can cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms, from severe pain to nausea and vomiting. And while it’s important to treat any inflammation—which is the root cause of most diseases— it’s also important to understand the root cause of the inflammation in the first place, so you can take the proper healing approach, and plan out a proper diet.
Common Causes of Stomach Inflammation
One possible cause of stomach inflammation is gastritis, which is a result of the mucosa, or stomach lining, becoming inflamed.
Another cause is peptic ulcers, which are open sores located either on the inside lining of the stomach (called gastric ulcers) or on the upper portion of the small intestine (called duodenal ulcers). Peptic ulcers are believed to be more common than gastritis, although there’s also some overlap between the two conditions.
If you’re experiencing a burning sensation in your stomach, you may have an ulcer, or you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of acid reflux, like heartburn or regurgitation, can be caused by GERD, gastritis, or hypochlorhydria. GERD is the more severe, chronic form of acid reflux while hypochlorhydria is the scientific term for having low stomach acid.
While we tend to think that too much acid causes acid reflux and similar conditions, it’s actually low stomach acid levels in most cases that can lead to trouble for those with digestive disorders. Your stomach needs to have sufficient acidity to break down the food you’re consuming and properly absorb nutrients, and if you have acid reflux symptoms of any kind, this is typically a warning sign that you have low stomach acid.
Diagnosing Ulcers and Gastritis
Gastritis and ulcers are usually diagnosed based on a person’s medical history, physical exam, and an upper GI endoscopy. Some common causes of both ulcers and gastritis include long-term use of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin; an H. pylori infection; chronic stress; smoking cigarettes; or excessive alcohol consumption.
GERD, meanwhile, can result from a lot of different factors including low stomach acid, poor gut health, food allergies, hiatal hernia, obesity, chronic stress, and taking certain medications like birth control pills.
H. Pylori and Stomach Inflammation
Ulcers and gastritis are very commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori, a type of bacteria that inflames the stomach lining and suppresses healthy stomach acid production. According to the CDC, about 66 percent of the world’s human population is infected with Helicobacter pylori, which is believed to be transmitted from person to person through close contact with saliva, vomit, or fecal matter.
Additionally, H. pylori is said to be responsible for over 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and up to 80 percent of stomach ulcers. This is because H. pylori bacteria can cause an internal infection that weakens and irritates the protective lining of the stomach and small intestine, ultimately causing an ulcer to form. It can also cause a general inflammation of the entire stomach lining (gastritis).
If you have symptoms of gastritis an ulcer, it is important to get yourself tested for H. pylori to establish whether this is a root cause.
Ulcer and Gastritis Diet
If you want to follow an effective ulcer or gastritis diet treatment plan to improve current symptoms—or you want to make sure those unwanted symptoms don’t return—it’s important to know what to eat and what to avoid.
The following are some foods known for making both ulcers and gastritis worse:
Regular, as well as decaffeinated, coffee or tea
Cocoa, chocolate, cola beverages, and other caffeine sources
Spicy foods like hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, black pepper, and hot sauce
Citrus fruits and juices
Fatty and fried foods
Milk and other dairy products
Refined foods like white bread, pasta, and sugar
Any known or possible food allergens
So now that you know what to avoid, here are some of the best foods and habits to include in your diet on a daily basis, specifically for ulcers:
Small meals—try eating several smaller meals per day to reduce the burden on your digestive system and relieve symptoms.
High fiber foods—an increase in fiber can help to repair as well as prevent ulcers. Try nuts like almonds, seeds like chia or flax, soaked legumes/beans, and sprouted whole grains (preferably those that are ancient grains and gluten-free like quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, and amaranth).
Green leafy vegetables—vegetables like kale, mustard greens, and collard greens provide vitamin K that can help repair damage to the stomach lining.
Cabbage juice— this has been shown to heal ulcers.
Fermented foods—kimchi and kefir are examples of foods that add good bacteria to the gut which can help combat the H. pylori bacteria that are known to cause ulcers.
If gastritis is your concern, the following foods are likely to help you:
High flavonoid foods—garlic, onions, apples, celery, and cranberries are all high in plant compounds called flavonoids which are believed to inhibit the growth of H. pylori.
Calcium-rich foods—almonds, sea vegetables, and dark leafy greens are great sources of calcium.
Healthy fats—fish including salmon and sardines are especially beneficial because they are omega-3-rich foods that are anti-inflammatory and beneficial for gastritis sufferers. You can also get healthy fat that is easy to digest from olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado.
Fermented or probiotic-rich foods—probiotic foods like cultured veggies, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir (if you can tolerate dairy) provide the good bacteria the body needs to fight off bad bacteria like H. pylori and to decrease inflammation.
Overall, you want to make sure that you are eating a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of whole foods and as few processed foods as possible.
Conventional and Alternative Treatments
A conventional doctor is likely to prescribe a few standard medications for both ulcers and gastritis, including antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and H2 blockers. While these drugs may improve symptoms, they are not without their well-known and concerning side effects. Depending on what’s in them, taking antacids can cause constipation, diarrhea, kidney stones, and even calcium loss that can lead to weak bones.
Common side effects of PPIs can include headaches, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, or rash. Taking PPIs at high doses for a long time has also been linked to an increased risk for various bone fractures, nutrient deficiencies, kidney failure, and dementia. H2 blockers can possibly cause headaches, diarrhea, dizziness or rashes.
Some safer, natural options to consider for soothing ulcers and gastritis:
Licorice root extract- (250 milligrams 30 minutes before meals) Can help stimulate regeneration of mucus membranes in the stomach and may help inhibit H. pylori.
Slippery elm- Can be a really helpful herbal supplement since it is known for increasing mucus secretion in the gastrointestinal tract. Slippery elm has been used to treat ulcers at dosages ranging from 1.5 to 3 grams per day.
Chamomile tea- Is a great beverage to have daily (as long as you’re not allergic) that can really help to calm the inflammation of ulcers and gastritis. Studies have also demonstrated that chamomile may be able to inhibit H. pylori bacteria that can cause ulcers and gastritis.