By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Bleeding peptic ulcer is one of the top leading causes of death in the Philippines as well as in the Cordillera. Can you imagine the picture of the moon where there are craters? Well, those craters look like ulcers. It is called a “crater” when it occurs on the surface of the earth or moon but if it occurs on the surface of the stomach or intestine or the mouth or the skin, it is called an “ulcer”. So while a crater could be a beauty, an ulcer is not. And it is not normal to have an ulcer or ulceration in any part of our body.
When we say “stomach ulcer”, we refer to any ulcer occurring in the stomach itself ( the technical term is “gastric ulcer”) and/or in the duodenum (the technical term is “duodenal ulcer”).
If the ulcer is deep enough, it could open a blood vessel and that is how bleeding occurs. It should not be so much a problem if this bleeding occurs on the skin because we can just press on the ulcer. Well, you can’t press on a stomach ulcer no matter how hard you try.
This bleeding doesn’t happen overnight, not even in a month or a year. Stomach ulcers are chronic diseases, meaning they occur over the long term- two weeks or more. So take heart, your stomach will not just bleed. And you can prevent ulcer.
Usually, recurring stomach pain is the first recognizable warning before an ulcer occurs. In fact, pain is a faithful sentry of any part of our body so don’t kill it when it presents itself. Meaning, don’t immediately take in a painkiller. Usually, the pain occurs when the stomach is empty and would go away after you have eaten. At this stage, when you have an endoscopy (a tube is inserted in your mouth all the way down to your stomach), what the doctor will see is inflammation of the lining of the stomach. That is why you feel pain. Any inflammation in any part of the body causes pain. In the stomach, you don’t see the inflammation but you will feel the pain. Our Creator certainly loves us. You can’t say He didn’t warn you. In medical terms, this condition is termed “gastritis”. In medicine, any condition ending in “-itis” means there is inflammation or swelling in that body part.
What causes inflammation in the stomach lining? Too much acid is the most common. The stomach is by nature very acidic. It produces hydrochloric acid, among other things. This is the chemical “muriatic acid” that you use to melt hardened waste deposits in your toilet and bathroom. That is why it can melt fish bones and other hard food that you swallow. Putting any more acidic foods will make the stomach sizzle. In our diet today, sugar is the most popular acidic food. So don’t be surprised when there are a lot of people nowadays who have gastritis and stomach ulcer despite the fact that there is plenty of food. It is not the lack of food that causes gastritis and ulcers. It is the quality.
The sugar that I am referring here is simple sugar. This includes refined sugar (white and brown), lactose from milk, chocolate and other dairy products. Honey is also a simple sugar. So is the sugar from fruits, even bananas. Be careful with processed foods – almost everything I see in the store or in the mall has sugar- from drinks (soft drinks, etc), to ketchup to fruit jams to pan de sal.
Aside from staying away from sugared foods and drinks and dairy, what else can you do to make your stomach happy? Chew your food well. We cannot overemphasize the importance of chewing food well. Again, we chew food well to be attuned to the nature of our digestive system. As I mentioned earlier, our stomach is acidic. On the other hand, our saliva is alkaline. This means that food should be alkalinized before it enters the stomach so that pH will be controlled and thus gentle on the stomach. So how does one mix saliva with food? We have our built-in blender- our mouth. So chew your food well until it becomes mushy.
Rice coffee or rice tea is good for those who have gastritis and ulcer. Of course, rice coffee is a great drink for everybody. In fact, this was the drink of many people in the Philippines and other rice-growing countries before the invasion of regular coffee. Rice coffee is gentle and calming on the stomach and intestines. How to make rice coffee? Just roast till black then boil some in water. Don’t put any sugar or milk as that will defeat the purpose. In Mountain Province, the Ankileng Young Women’s Organization make instant rice coffee for those on the go.**