One of the most irritating and implacable ailments many of us face in our lives is the digestive ulcer. Ulcers are sores in the digestive system, which lead to irritation, pain, and other problems. They're annoying to diagnose and treat. So, if we told you there could be a home remedy for you, would you try it? Let's find out more.
The Symptoms and Causes of Ulcers
Ulcers are sores. Think of them like cold sores. For one reason or another, some part of your digestive system develops a sore, and that sore sends pain and irritation throughout your body. They can form in the lining of the stomach (as a gastric ulcer) or in the small intestine (as a duodenal ulcer), but they both have similar symptoms.
- Discomfort or pain in the stomach or abdomen when you eat or after you eat.
- Stomach pain that wakes you up in the evening.
- A feeling of fullness even when you've eaten very little.
- Dull ache or pain in the stomach.
Additionally, some ulcers can become more severe and cause a tear in the lining of the stomach or intestine. These can be characterized by nausea, vomiting, blood in the vomit, blood in the stool, back pain, and unexpected weight loss as your body fails to absorb nutrients properly.
Ulcer pain can come and go, and it can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours each time. Symptoms tend to form in clusters lasting days or weeks as ulcers form and heal.
What causes ulcers? Generally, there are three primary causes.
The first cause is acid. In fact, when testing medications for ulcers in rats, scientists use a concentrated acetic acid solution to induce them. For reference, vinegar is 4% acetic acid; the solution used in science is closer to 20%. Acidic and spicy foods can damage the lining of the stomach or intestines, leading to ulcers.
The second cause is long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. This is why the instructions on these medications tell you to limit how much and how often you use them.
The third cause is biological. The bacteria known as Helicobacter Pylori, or H. Pylori, is primarily responsible. This was discovered and confirmed by the scientist Barry Marshall, who famously infected himself with large amounts of H. Pylori, developed ulcers, took an antibiotic to clear the bacteria, and cured the ulcers. He won a Nobel Prize for his work, in fact.
Traditional Ulcer Treatments
Given the three primary causes of ulcers, there are generally two different kinds of treatments.
The first kind of treatment is to treat the biological cause. Typically, if you are suspected of having ulcers, you may be asked to give your doctor a stool sample. They will then run a PCR test on it to check for the presence of the H. Pylori bacteria. If it is detected, you will then be prescribed an antibiotic to get rid of the bacteria.
Now, Barry Marshall believes that H. Pylori might have some beneficial uses for regulating the immune system. It's possible that fully removing the bacteria from your system can cause more issues down the line. Additionally, antibiotics are often over-used in today's medical system. This is a problem for two reasons.
- It wrecks your gut biome. You will need probiotics, prebiotics, and time to regrow your gut biome and the beneficial bacteria that help you function.
- It may help contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The use of antibiotics must be strictly regulated; taking some, but not enough, exposes bacteria to the poison that kills them, but leaves enough alive to develop resistance. This strain will then out-compete the older strain, and the antibiotic will no longer work against that disease. This is swiftly becoming a huge problem in modern health.
The other ulcer treatment is a medication called Sucralfate. Sucralfate is a medication that creates a coating on the stomach and intestine, which prevents things like bacteria, acid, and food from reaching and irritating the ulcer. Think of it like a chemical bandage to place over the ulcer to let it heal without further irritation.
Sometimes, you will be prescribed the "triple therapy". This therapy uses three medications; the antibiotic, the Sucralfate, and a protein pump inhibitor. This PPI reduces the amount of acid your stomach generates, further allowing the ulcer to heal.
That's a lot of medication! Moreover, it's a temporary solution. You cannot prevent H. Pylori infection, because the bacteria is everywhere, and it's only a matter of chance that it is able to run rampant in your system. You can control your intake of acidic foods and of NSAIDs, but if you're particularly sensitive to them, even a single dose can cause an ulcer to develop.
So, is there another solution?
Aloe Vera: Ulcer Home Remedy?
Perhaps. Modern medicine is so focused on chemicals and rough solutions that a lot of traditional remedies and medications are being overlooked. However, a lot of modern study is going into checking out traditional medicine and looking to find the truth hidden within the stories.
One such source of truth is Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera is a succulent; a plant that develops long fronds that are packed full of a water-rich gel. This gel is packed with nutrients and is soothing to the skin and the digestive system. In fact, people have been consuming the gel of the Aloe Vera plant for centuries to ease digestive distress.
The only question is, does it actually work? Or is it simply a placebo, another form of traditional medicine that only works because of coincidence and cultural impetus?
Unfortunately, studies are somewhat few and far between. Few people with ulcers want to mess around with alternative treatments when there's an existing treatment available that they know works just fine.
That said, at least one study has shown some benefit. In this study, 48 rats were used. 12 of them were left alone, and 12 of them were given ulcers and left to heal naturally. Of the remaining 24, 12 of them were given Sucralfate, and 12 of them were given Aloe Vera.
Experimental results can be read on that page, but to summarize them: Aloe Vera had a very similar effect on the ulcers as Sucralfate. It coats the ulcers and allows them to heal more rapidly than they would if left alone.
It's worth mentioning, however, that this study is somewhat limited.
- There are only 12 rats treated with Aloe Vera. While this is a decent sample group, it's not very large.
- It only treats one source of ulcers; those produced by acetic acid solutions. Aloe Vera may not do anything to help ulcers caused by H. Pylori infections.
- The effects of Aloe Vera are somewhat limited. While they are similar in scale to Sucralfate, they are slightly worse, making the medication a better choice.
- It's a rat study. The effects of a substance or medication in rats do not always transfer over to humans.
Other studies also exist, with small sample sizes and different focuses. Some have determined that Aloe Vera can help reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, similar to a protein pump inhibitor. Most, though, indicate that Aloe Vera can only treat acid ulcers and not ulcers caused by H. Pylori.
Other Natural Ulcer Remedies
If you're invested in trying out natural remedies for ulcers rather than medications, there are a handful of other options available to you. We'll list the most potent here, and you're free to determine which ones you want to try.
- Cabbage. Cabbage, particularly cabbage juice, is packed with vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and can act as a low-grade antibiotic to prevent infections from H. Pylori. Small studies have indicated that daily cabbage juice can help prevent ulcers and make them heal faster.
- Licorice. Actual licorice, not the sugary candies. The licorice spice may be able to help the stomach produce more mucous naturally, which helps coat ulcers and prevent them from forming. It's also possible that it can help prevent the growth of that nasty bacteria. Be careful, though; licorice can interfere with some medications.
- Honey. Honey is a natural preservative, antioxidant, and has antibacterial properties. It's also soothing on the stomach. Animal studies have been promising, but human studies have not yet been conducted.
- Garlic. The pungent herb has long been used as a health food because of its potent antimicrobial properties. In terms of preventing H. Pylori infections, it may be the best of the bunch. Plus, it's delicious and can go in nearly any dinner.
- Turmeric. The yellow Indian spice contains a potent anti-inflammatory called curcumin, which is the subject of a lot of medical attention today for its varied health benefits. You're better off with a supplement combining curcumin extract with piperine, however, as curcumin has a low bioavailability and turmeric itself has relatively little curcumin in it.
- Probiotics. Consuming fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, and kefir can help infuse your body with helpful bacteria native to your gut. This healthy bacteria performs many functions for the body, including facilitating digestion, out-competing bad bacteria, and promoting immune function. In particular, they can out-compete H. Pylori to prevent infections.
Any of these, taken on their own or in combination with Aloe Vera, might be helpful in treating ulcers. However, every person is different and will react differently to different treatments. You'll have to try them all and keep records to see how they affect your ulcers.
How to Take Aloe Vera for Ulcers
If you're interested in trying out Aloe Vera for ulcer treatments, you have two options. First, you can get Aloe whole and prepare it yourself. Or, you can buy Aloe Vera juice from a reputable dealer.
We generally recommend against preparing Aloe on your own. This is because the outer shell of the fronds is made of a plant latex. This latex contains a compound called Aloin, which is toxic. Consuming even a small amount of this substance can lead to digestive problems, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Consuming too much of it can be even more dangerous. A commercial product like our Aloe Juice, however, has the Aloe carefully filtered to remove all traces of this latex.
We also have plenty of advice on the use of Aloe Vera.
- The benefits of drinking Aloe Juice before or after a workout.
- The use of Aloe Vera on the skin for tanning.
- A detailed breakdown of what Aloe Vera juice tastes like.
- A list of tips and tricks to make pure Aloe taste better.
Aloe Vera, so long as you're careful to avoid the latex in one way or another, is safe and healthy to eat or drink. It tastes a little odd and may be an acquired taste for some. However, you can mix up a smoothie with an Aloe Vera base, along with other anti-ulcer ingredients like turmeric, licorice, honey, and cabbage, for a cocktail that is sure to cure.
Before we leave you with our final advice, we have to mention one thing. Ulcers on their own are painful but not terribly dangerous. However, long-term ulcers can cause other problems, from digestive issues to stress issues to cancers. If you have recurring ulcer issues, you should talk to a doctor about stronger treatments, lifestyle adjustments, and other advice. Additionally, Aloe is unlikely to do much against underlying diseases that cause ulcers, such as ulcerative colitis. You'll need to talk to your doctor about those as well.
So, what is our advice? If you experience ulcers infrequently and they aren't very severe, it can be worthwhile to try out home remedies like Aloe Vera. However, if you experience ulcers that are severe, frequent, or don't go away with home treatment, it's time to talk to a specialist.