Eating a smart diet can help calm abdominal pain

Yogurt Image - Masterfile 2013

The uncomfortable abdominal pain of gastritis and ulcers often comes on after eating. And that's why doctors typically focus on eliminating offending foods from the diet to help treat these conditions. But what if eating certain foods actually helped to relieve your symptoms? That just may be the case, according to new research and accumulated wisdom about the effects certain foods have on your stomach.

Food as Medicine

Gastritis and ulcers are most often caused by an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which increases the stomach's sensitivity to acid-mediated injury by decreasing cells' ability to protect against it. It follows, then, that the most effective foods to combat the symptoms of gastritis and ulcers are those that either fight the H. pylori infection or reduce the acidity in your stomach.

Research suggests that at least two foods—broccoli sprouts and yogurt—can cool the fires of gastritis and ulcers by directly inhibiting H. pylori growth in your gut.

Broccoli sprouts. A chemical in broccoli sprouts known as sulforaphane has an antibacterial effect on H. pylori. Broccoli sprouts are three- to four-day-old broccoli plants that look like alfalfa sprouts and taste like radishes. They contain more sulforaphane than mature broccoli and are tasty sprinkled on salads or added to sandwiches.

A study of 48 individuals with H. pylori infection, published in 2009 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, found that those who ate 70 g (about 1 cup) of broccoli sprouts a day for eight weeks had less stomach infection and inflammation than people who ate a similar amount of alfalfa sprouts, which do not contain sulforaphane. Two months after the study, however, the broccoli sprout eaters' inflammation and infection returned to previous levels.

Therefore, if you add broccoli sprouts to your diet to relieve gastritis or an ulcer, you may have to keep eating them on a regular basis to maintain the benefit.

Yogurt. Some yogurts contain active cultures that can help regulate the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut and thus crowd out H. pylori. In particular, yogurt that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium cultures has been shown to lower infection levels and boost the effectiveness of conventional antibiotic and acid-reducing treatments for gastritis and ulcers.

One 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, followed 138 H. pylori-infected people who had tried triple therapy (two antibiotics and one proton pump inhibitor for one to two weeks) but did not experience an improvement in their gastritis or ulcer symptoms. They were then assigned to eat either 200 mL (about 1 cup) of yogurt containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteriumdaily for a month followed by one week of quadruple therapy (bismuth, two antibiotics, and one proton pump inhibitor or H2-blocker) or undergo quadruple therapy without eating yogurt first.

The results showed that more of the yogurt eaters eradicated their H. pylori infection than those who underwent quadruple therapy without the yogurt—86 percent versus 71 percent. In addition, the yogurt eaters were less likely to experience side effects from the quadruple therapy, such as diarrhea and nausea.

To take advantage of these benefits, you'll need to purchase yogurt that contains live and active cultures. You can find this information on the label, along with the specific cultures the yogurt contains.

Stomach Soothing Dietary Strategies

In addition to combating H. pylori in the gut, other dietary changes can help by reducing stomach acid, irritation, and inflammation. No one diet will work for everybody, and it may take some trial and error to determine the dietary adjustments that work best for you.

Less frequent meals. Doctors used to recommend that people with gastritis or ulcers eat smaller, more frequent meals, but then research showed that this tactic promotes high stomach acid levels. Instead, you should eat a few regular, larger meals to keep stomach acid in check and reduce irritation.

A bland diet. The old, standard advice of eating a bland diet still holds to an extent—but it should be tailored to each individual.

Publication Review By: H. Franklin Herlong, M.D.

Published: 29 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 13 Mar 2013