Soul food

Staff Writer
Ulcers: the burning discomfort
Of the many digestive disorders and uncomfortable conditions that I know of, ulcers are up there higher in the list of what most people abhor.

It is not in your head, you are not being a hypochondriac when you constantly complain about that burn in your insides. But note that ulcers should not be confused with heartburn or acid reflux which is also common. In Setswana, this much-known condition is called lesokolela.

From time-to-time, many of us experience occasional stomach discomfort.  However, when sleepless nights, caused by a stomach that's burning and churning or an afternoon of bloat and post-lunch unease becomes frequent and routine, a doctor's visit is a must. Regular readers of this column now know that dietary indiscretion and emotional stress do not cause ulcers.  However, both can aggravate symptoms, which may include a dull constant ache that often occurs two to three hours after eating.

Experts now believe that the culprit for more than 80 percent of stomach ulcers is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).  Now you know; you have not been bewitched, but you may have eaten or drunk something sinister. This bacterium often reaches the stomach through contaminated food or water.  Once in the stomach, this spiral-shaped micro-organism weakens the protective stomach lining which then allows acid to irritate the delicate tissue. H. pylori is common amongst most of us and older people especially.

Other symptoms of an ulcer may include belching, nausea, bloating, vomiting, weight loss and poor appetite. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake can wreak havoc on the stomach lining. Do know that harbouring H. pylori does not mean you will develop an ulcer. Similarly, chronic use of medications that irritate the stomach lining, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents like ibuprofen, including Cox-2 inhibitors like Celebrex, can also contribute to ulcers.

This once complex, sometimes deadly, condition can be treated with antibiotics. A simple blood test, stool sample or breath test can let you know if you are affected.  To diagnose your condition, your doctor may take X-rays of your intestinal tract or may view the lining of the stomach via a camera threaded down

your oesophagus (endoscopy).

If an ulcer is left untreated, it may result in a loss of stomach acid. This loss of stomach acid interferes with the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods. As a result, neurological symptoms such as sensory loss, uncoordinated muscle movements and mood changes may result. So what ever you do, please don't let an ulcer go unchecked.

Inadequate stomach acid can also interfere with the absorption of iron. Do know that over-indulging in high-fat foods, over-eating and excessive consumption of spicy foods can all trigger gastric woes. In fact, foods high in fat have been shown to worsen symptoms of nausea, bloating, pain and fullness.

As such, dietary changes, which include enjoying low-fat foods, have been found to be helpful. Other simple changes such as eating smaller, more frequent meals; enjoying low-fat foods and avoiding greasy, fatty foods and; engaging in moderate exercises often spells relief. A diet lower in salt with ample vegetables may also be protective. Actually, if you have noticed already, all these are the basic rules of eating a healthy diet and living well. Which goes to show that indeed everything starts with food, a good diet and sanitary precautions.

Remember, if symptoms are frequent, see the doctor. Here are some additional suggestions.

Maintain a healthy weight 
Pass up foods that trigger symptoms; common culprits include fried foods, caffeine, chocolate, citrus juices, peppermint, tomato-based foods.

Eat little processed foods, especially salty, fatty foods. A high-salt diet may contribute to gastritis and stomach cancer.

Try not to overeat
Enjoy 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The fibre helps move food through the intestinal tract and may help protect against stomach cancer.

Exercise helps move food through the intestine and relieves constipation. Sneak at least 30 minutes in your schedule daily.

Now that you [are] better, please do better in protecting yourself against ulcers. And if you have ulcers already, manage them more effectively and live a better life with less discomfort and torture.



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