Probiotics and Stomach Ulcers: Are They Helpful?

Stomach ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers, are a very common digestive problem that affects many people worldwide. If you are one of those people, you may be wondering about new treatment strategies to get help. All eyes are on probiotics when it comes to any kind of digestive problem. Are they effective for stomach ulcers? Read on to find out more.

Key takeaways:

Causes of stomach ulcers

Stomach ulcers, or gastric ulcers, are open sores that develop on the stomach wall. Infection with Helicobacter pylori is at the top of the list of causes of stomach ulcers. H. pylori is a bacteria associated with the development of many common digestive problems like chronic gastritis, peptic ulcers, or stomach cancers, as it leads to erosion of the mucosal barrier and the stomach wall. Other common risk factors include long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, stress, or high consumption of stomach-triggering foods like spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

For years, combined therapies, including antibiotics for bacterial infection and proton pump inhibitors to decrease acid secretion, were used. However, there are important conditions to consider, like the side effects and antibiotic resistance. The global rate of primary H. pylori resistance is very high. Therefore, clinicians have focused on new potential therapies for treating stomach ulcers.

Probiotics are living microorganisms, mainly bacteria, and research studies have shown that these microorganisms have different contributions to host health according to current diseases, metabolic and microbiome status, and treatment duration. Probiotics are effective in the prevention of intestinal infections, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and allergies.

Can probiotics help with stomach ulcers?

There are hundreds of studies showing the effects of probiotics on gastrointestinal system diseases. In the case of stomach ulcers and H. pylori infection, different studies have shown different mechanisms of action of probiotics, including:

  • Strengthening of stomach mucosal barrier. The stomach has a very special thick mucus layer that prevents cells placed in the stomach from its strong acidic fluid, infection, or any kind of harmful species. When this mucosal barrier loses its function, your body and gastrointestinal system will be more open to diseases. Probiotics are shown to support mucosal barrier integrity, which prevents H. pylori and other kinds of infections.
  • Competing for adhesion. Adhesion is the ability to hold on to something. If H. pylori cannot hold on to your stomach wall, it cannot infect you. As living organisms, probiotics also have adhesion ability, and they can compete with harmful bacteria like H. pylori, which leads to a decreased rate of infection potential.
  • Providing immune modulation. Probiotics are helpful organisms to boost our immunity. If we have a strong immune response, even when we face an infection, we can fight against harmful pathogens. Research studies have proved that probiotics and their metabolic products support the immune system, and therefore, they are helpful for many different diseases.
  • Promoting an antimicrobial environment. Probiotics can potentially hinder the growth of H. pylori bacteria by releasing certain substances like short-chain fatty acids and antibacterial compounds. These short-chain fatty acids, including acetic, propionic, and lactic acids, are created when probiotics break down carbohydrates. As a result of this metabolic process, the pH level in the environment becomes more acidic. This acidic environment can be unfavorable for the growth and survival of H. pylori.

What do clinical trials say?

A meta-analysis study involving 33 different clinical trials with a total of 4,459 patients showed us how adding probiotics to treatments for eradicating H. pylori infections affected the success rates and side effects.

Researchers found that when probiotics were added to the treatment, the success rate in getting rid of the infection was higher compared to treatments without probiotics. However, they found that this higher success rate was only consistently seen with four specific strains of probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei DN-114001, Lactobacillus gasseri, and Bifidobacterium infantis.

Regarding side effects, those who received probiotics had fewer side effects compared to those who received antibiotics alone. The overall findings suggest that adding specific probiotic strains to the treatment can improve the success of eradicating infections, especially when antibiotics are not working well.

Tips for those with stomach ulcers

Even though probiotics are very effective for stomach ulcers, always ask your doctor before using any kinds of supplements, herbal agents, or vitamins and minerals. If you suspect you have gastric ulcers, it is important to seek an official diagnosis. The most essential step is finding the right treatment for you. Then, you can plan supportive therapies, like probiotics, with your doctor.

However, there are several lifestyle habits that may help you with this disease or may be preventive:

  1. Mind your diet. You need to detect and avoid foods and drinks that exacerbate your ulcer and cause discomfort. For many people, alcohol, coffee, caffeinated soda, fatty foods, chocolate, and spicy foods can exacerbate ulcers.
  2. Stop eating early. You may want to avoid eating late-night snacks, as they may lead to stomach burn and discomfort if you go to sleep before your body completes digestion.
  3. Stop smoking. If you smoke, try to quit. Tobacco also triggers ulcers and negatively affects the healing of your ulcers.
  4. Calm down. Stress worsens digestive problems. Try to reduce your stress level with meditation, yoga, or any other exercise. You can get help from a health professional to manage your stress.

Probiotics are microorganisms that are beneficial against several digestive issues. Besides their well-known effects on gut microbiota, they also protect the stomach from H. pylori infection, which leads to stomach ulcers. Probiotics prevent H. pylori from adhering to the stomach wall, provide an antimicrobial environment with their metabolites, and support the immune system and mucosal barrier. It is important to consult with a doctor before initiating probiotic treatment, as they can help find a strain that will be most beneficial for you.

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