Dehydration: Is It A Cause of Peptic Ulcers?

Use "water therapy" to prevent peptic ulcers: Drinking 2 liters of water daily and a large glass of water before meals can reduce peptic ulcers

An estimated one in ten Americans develop a peptic ulcer at some time in his or her life according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum. Peptic ulcers have different names depending on their location in the gastric system: gastric ulcer (for a peptic ulcer that develops in the stomach), duodenal ulcer (the ulcer that occurs in the upper part of the small intestine), and an esophageal ulcer (an ulcer that is located in the lower portion of the esophagus, which is usually associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease).


Disagreement on the Causes of Peptic Ulcers: Bacteria Helicobacter Pylori vs. Dehydration and Stress

There are different schools of thought on the causes of peptic ulcers. Mainstream medical practitioners hold a belief that contrary to popular belief: peptic ulcers are not caused by stress, eating spicy food, or drinking excess alcohol, although these factors can certainly aggravate an existing ulcer. Rather, some peptic ulcers have been attributed to the long-term use of certain medications (i.e., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen) and cancerous tumors in the stomach or pancreas. Many researchers and doctors believe that most peptic ulcers are caused by bacterial infection of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which attacks and weakens the protective mucous coating of the stomach, esophagus, and duodenum, allowing the gastric acid (containing hydrochloric acid, HCl, at approximate pH of 1 to 2) to penetrate the sensitive lining underneath. Both the stomach acid and H. pylori irritate the lining and cause the ulcer. Scientists have found that H. pylori can survive in the harsh acidic environment of the stomach because it secretes enzymes that neutralize the acid, thus permitting this spiral-shaped bacterium to lodge in the "safe" area-the protective mucous lining-and then burrow through the lining.

The other school of thought believes that the triggers or causes of peptic ulcers is dehydration and stress. Researchers who subscribe to this belief point out that approximately 40 percent of the population carries the bacterium H. pylori in the United Kingdom (UK), yet only one out of five people who are infected with this bacterium actually develop peptic ulcers. So H. pylori alone are not the cause of peptic ulcers. Medical practitioners who hold this theory believe that when people don't drink enough water, the lining of their stomach and duodenum are unable to generate the thick layer of mucus required to protect them from the highly acidic gastric juices. The mucus layer is thus more susceptible to attacks by the bacterium H. pylori.

Thousands of research studies have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals; we selected only four here to highlight that researchers have already pointed out the importance of the mucus layer in protecting the stomach and duodenum, as follows:

  • Researchers have also found that mucus is critical in the protection of gastroduodenal mucosa and that the "structure of adherent gastric mucus is deficient in patients with peptic ulcer disease" in Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, Supplement (Allen et al., 1986).
  • British researchers published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology (Allen et al., 1988) highlighted the role of the mucus barrier in "gastroduodenal mucosal protection."
  • Scientists have acknowledged the importance of gastric mucus in offering "physical protection against ingested particles and preventing contact between digestive enzymes such as pepsin and the underlying mucosa is generally accepted" in the Keio Journal of Medicine (Kaunitz, 1999). The gastric mucosa sheet, however, is critically important in preventing the stomach acid from eroding the stomach lining.
  • In American Journal of Physiology, Cell Physiology (Allen and Flemström, 2005), researchers found that the "primary function of the adherent mucus gel layer is a structural one to create a stable, unstirred layer to support surface neutralization of acid and act as a protective physical barrier against luminal pepsin."

Disagreement on the Treatment of Peptic Ulcers: Antibiotics vs. Natural Herbs with Water Therapy and Relaxation

A most common symptom of peptic ulcer is burning pain, which is intensified by stomach acid coming in contact with the ulcerated area. This severe pain is worsened by an empty stomach. Because they cause extreme pain, peptic ulcers must not be ignored. Indeed, if left untreated, peptic ulcers can produce scar tissue that obstructs food passage through the digestive tract, leading one to feel full easily, vomits frequently, and lose weight rapidly. Ulcers can also perforate, causing internal bleeding, and can bore a hole through the wall of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine, which may lead to an infection of the abdominal cavity called peritonitis.

Two approaches to treat peptic ulcers are as follows:

Conventional (allopathic or Western) medicine—In allopathic medicine, doctors aim to kill H. pylori through a combination of antibiotics (e.g., metronidazole, tetracycline, clarithromycin, amoxicillin), acid suppressors (various histamine or H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors), acid blockers, and stomach-lining protectors (e.g., bismuth subsalicylate). Using this approach, patients may have to take up to 20 pills a day for the triple therapy and may suffer many side effects (such as dizziness, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, dark stools, metallic taste in the mouth, and yeast infections in women) according to the NIH.

There are many problems with this treatment regimen:

  • Antibiotics can damage the body's natural immunity, killing off the "good" bacteria in the gut, leading to symptoms like diarrhea.
  • Commercially available drugs such as Zantac and Tagamet can reduce stomach acidity, but in the process, they also have side effects such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, and diarrhea. Tagamet has been shown to interfere and weaken liver function; it can also lead to breast enlargement and importance in men.

Complementary (alternative, natural, or traditional) medicine—Because medical practitioners view peptic ulcers to be caused by dehydration, which reduces and thins the stomach's and duodenum's mucus layer and makes the lining vulnerable to bacterial infection, they prescribe drinking a large glass of water approximately 30 minutes before each meal and drink about 2 liters of water each day. Researchers have long known that stress boosts acid production in the stomach while suppressing the body's natural immunity so that it is less able to fight off bacterial infection by H. pylori. A more holistic approach to preventing and treating peptic ulcers includes the following:

  • Drink plenty of water: about 2 liters per day.
  • Drink a large glass of water 30 minutes before the meal.
  • Avoid stress whenever possible.
  • Avoid cigarettes: nicotine has been shown to increase stomach acid.
  • Avoid caffeine: caffeine also stimulates the stomach to increase stomach acid production.
  • For treating ulcers, use a natural product called mastic gum, the resinous gum of a species of Greek spice tree belonging to the pistachio family (Pistacia lentiscus, now growing all over the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions), which has been used by the people of the Mediterranean for several thousand years to treat gastrointestinal problems. It is a natural antibiotic that can kill H. pylori but does not harm the friendly bacteria in the intestines. This resin has been through clinical trials with results published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1946, 1998) and Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology (1984).
  • To treat gastric ulcers and cankerous sores, one can also use a natural herb called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which is made from licorice with the glycyrrhizin removed. In numerous research studies, this herb has been shown to be effective in treating gastric ulcers (for example, Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, Supplement, by Russell et al., 1984; the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Morgan et al., 1983 and Bennett et al., 1980; Lancet, Glick, 1982; Gut, Bardhan et al., 1976; the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India, Balakrishnan et al., 1978).

So, if you are already carrying the bacterium H. pylori, would you rather be drinking two liters of water daily, or suffer the extreme pains of peptic ulcer and then have to undergo conventional antibiotic treatment and perhaps even get the side effects of enlarging breasts and impotence (a side effect of Tagamet)? Basic lifestyle changes can help you prevent the occurrence of peptic ulcers, for example:

  • Drink about 2 liters of water daily. Avoid dehydrating your body.
  • Drink a large glass of water before a meal.
  • Drink herbal tea rather than alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated tea. Caffeine can stimulate stomach acid production.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday (especially cabbage and broccoli).
  • Avoid overly spicy food, which can stimulate acid production in the stomach.
  • Avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes as nicotine can increase acid production in the stomach.
  • Avoid stress and take measures to relieve stress whenever possible.
  • Again, the most important lifestyle change is to regularly hydrate your body and drink a large glass of water before meals.

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