Case Study: Choose Soothing Herbs For Stomach Ulcers

| July/August 2000

Joan was a go-getter, but not in the classic sense. She didn’t wear a business suit from Neiman Marcus or do power lunches, or even skip lunch altogether. Joan demonstrated that while trends and risk factors do make it more likely for a particular person to develop a disease, it is possible for practically anyone to have just about any disease. Joan was a yoga teacher with a gastric (or stomach) ulcer.

What causes ulcers?

Joan had just been to her doctor, who’d told her that ulcers were mostly caused by bacteria or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, and that stress and diet, though somewhat important for overall health, played an incidental role. Her doctor had ordered some antibody tests, which came back strongly positive for a common bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (abbreviated H. pylori), which medical science has concluded is the most likely cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers.

As I examined Joan, I noticed that she had a fast, thin pulse. Her tongue was also quite red, especially about a third of the way back in the center (the area associated with the stomach). The redness suggested “heat” in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, as did her fast pulse. The relative weakness of her pulse and the thin coating on her tongue told me that she was deficient and that her body’s weakened immune system and vital energy could use some extra care and support.

We also needed to clear some of the “heat” stuck in her stomach area. I explained to Joan that this meant eating an immune-strengthening diet and choosing foods and herbs that could cool and soothe her stomach.

It often takes two months to heal an ulcer. 

Although Joan’s doctor prescribed a “triple therapy” of three antibiotics to kill the bacteria in her stomach, herbalists like myself are always looking at the underlying factors that got Joan to the point of weakness in the first place. Instead of asking, “How can I kill the bacteria and get rid of the disease?” we ask, “Why is the bacteria overgrowing in the stomach?” This approach made sense to Joan—that’s why she chose to come to an herbalist—but she was confused. She asked, “Well, does the bacteria cause the ulcer or not?”

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