Learn about ulcers affecting the digestive tract
Ulcers are basically sores that develop in the lining of the digestive tract. These sores are spots where the stomach’s or intestine's lining has been eaten away by stomach acid and digestive juices. Ulcers typically heal and recur.
In general, the names of the ulcers specify where they are found. An ulcer in the part of the small intestine called the duodenum is known as a duodenal ulcer, while a stomach ulcer is commonly referred to as a peptic ulcer. Symptoms will depend on where the ulcer is located and can vary widely. Some people may have no symptoms while others experience an intermittent burning and gnawing sensation along with feeling empty and hungry.
What Causes Ulcers?
Just as there are different types of ulcers, there are also different mechanisms that can cause them. Here are some factors that can contribute to ulcer development:
- Helicobacter pylori bacterium. An overgrowth of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers. Normal populations of these bacteria, however, have been shown to provide a protective effect for the esophagus. It is, therefore, important not to eliminate H. pylori entirely from the body as a quick fix for treating ulcers.
- Certain drugs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, cortisone derivatives, and alcohol have all been linked to ulcer development. These drugs cause injury to the protective mucosal lining of the stomach, which results in ulceration and bleeding.
- Low melatonin levels. Another cause of ulcers you rarely, if ever, hear mentioned is low melatonin levels. The trigger for melatonin production in the pineal gland is low light levels. As our society stays up later, uses artificial lighting far into the night, and gets less sleep, our bodies obviously produce less melatonin. Decreased melatonin production has been linked to several health problems including the development of ulcers. Animal studies have shown that increasing melatonin levels by even small amounts can have a dramatic effect in both healing and preventing stress-induced ulcers.
Why the Most Popular Way of Treating Ulcers Is Flawed
Several years ago, the H. pylori bacterium was claimed to be the primary cause of stomach ulcers. Consequently, total elimination of H. pylori from the body through the use of antibiotics has become the conventional medical treatment of choice for ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
Eliminating H. pylori often does let ulcers heal, but researchers (and patients) are discovering that people who have completely killed off H. pylori colonies subsequently develop gastroesophageal reflux.
Research from McGill University indicates that H. pylori in the digestive tract helps protect against acid erosion of the esophagus and small intestine. When 87 patients with ulcers were given antibiotics and followed for a year, 21 percent of them developed inflammation of the esophagus, and 37 percent showed evidence of gastroesophageal reflux (compared with only 8 percent in the non-antibiotic group).
This conventional medical ulcer treatment of selectively wiping out the H. pylori strain of bacteria with antibiotics ultimately disrupts the balance of bacteria in the gut and leads to other digestive problems. A more reasonable solution is to restore gut health by improving bacterial balance and using natural, alternative therapies for treating ulcers.
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