Whether you have recently had a bad stomach virus that won’t go away, or an ongoing sore stomach has been bothering you for a while, it’s likely that you are experiencing an inflamed stomach lining, or gastritis.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is when the stomach lining has become inflamed. This can be due to damage, or a bacterial infection. It can be quick, or develop slowly over a longer timeframe (5). It is different to gastroenteritis which can cause both the stomach and bowel to become inflamed due to a bacterial or parasitic infection, i.e. by eating contaminated food. Certainly, repeated gastroenteritis episodes often result in gastritis due to the stripping of your stomach lining, leaving you with inflammation. Again, this isn’t always the cause of gastritis. When gastritis becomes chronic it’s called atrophic gastritis (5)
The cells in the stomach lining are important as they release certain digestive secretions. If these digestive secretions are impaired it makes it hard for your body to properly absorb certain nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron (5,16). Ongoing gastritis can certainly lead to a B12 deficiency which is why you should always see your GP who can run all the important tests and detect the underlying cause (see below). Depending on the depth of damage to the stomach lining cells, repair can occur within days, weeks, or more.
So What Causes Gastritis?
Gastritis can be caused by regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and nurofen (14), excessive alcohol intake (15) and/or other drugs, or an H. pylori bacterial infection (a bacteria that lives in the mucous of the stomach lining) (5). H.pylori bacterial infections can also cause peptic ulcers. Gastritis can also be caused by a stressful physical situation such as surgery, severe burns or trauma (5). Or it can be caused by an auto immune condition, although this is very much less common (5). Whatever the cause, you can have gastritis for years if left untreated, especially if you are continuing to irritate your inflamed stomach lining through poor diet or ongoing NSAID usage.
Why is an Inflamed Stomach More Common as you Get Older?
The protective prostaglandin content of the stomachs’ mucosal lining also reduces with age, as does the secretion of gastric bicarbonate – both of which are important for a healthy stomach lining and function. Collectively this means that your ability to resist damage to your stomach lining reduces with age, particularly if NSAID ingestion is occurring (20).
What are the Symptoms?
There are cells in the stomach lining that produce a mucous or defence barrier to protect the stomach lining from the acids and enzymes that break down food in your stomach. Sometimes this barrier becomes damaged, either through bacteria or an ongoing detrimental cause such as those listed above. The acid then starts to break down the stomach lining.
Often the symptoms include
- A gnawing or burning stomach pain after eating or generally,
- A loss of appetite,
- Nausea and/or vomiting,
- Abdominal pain or bloating.
It’s important to note that there are other causes of these symptoms, which is why we should all read and take note of this next section.
When to See Your GP
The first thing you should do is visit your GP to undertake tests including those for a H. pylori bacterial infection, to establish the underlying condition. This is especially important if you have blood in your stools or you’re vomiting blood, if you have recently started taking a new medication, or if this condition is going on for more than a week. If there are no bacterial infections present your GP can test to see if a food allergy or other causes are to blame. If you’ve been experiencing gastritis for a while your GP will want to run vitamin B12 tests. We talked about vitamin B12 deficiency and the risks of this with ongoing gastritis above. B12 deficiency can result in many of the above gastritis symptoms, as well as fatigue, mood depletion, memory and behaviour issues, pale skin, and other symptoms (16).
What Else Can you do?
When it comes to actually healing your stomach lining, there is no quick cure. Reducing your stress and getting more sleep can definitely help. The right diet can also help to ease your symptoms and promote the healing of your stomach lining. However, if you do nothing else, the stomach lining should actually heal itself, so long as you avoid foods and drugs which irritate the lining of your stomach and allow it to heal. This is important. This can take time and discipline, but it’s worth it to put the inflamed stomach symptoms to rest.
You can also improve the health of your stomach and ensure that you have plenty of good bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract to suppress the growth of bad bacteria such as H.Pylori. See the bottom of this post for more information on probiotics and H.Pylori.
Ok .. the First Steps to Reduce Inflamed Stomach Symptoms and start the Healing
With gastritis or even after an episode of gastroenteritis many people suggest a very bland calming diet for a few days. It’s no longer as strict as very small and very few meals, but lets not go too large on the food front, listen to your body. You might want to cook up a simple chicken broth as many of our mothers used to do for us. It’s calming on the stomach and full of nutrients.
You should then review your diet and eliminate foods which will further irritate your stomach lining, whilst increasing the amount of anti inflammatory foods outlined below. Eating a diet rich in these foods day to day is a great way to maintain a healthy stomach lining and to prevent another occurrence of gastritis.
Foods to avoid with an inflamed stomach lining
- Avoid nurofen, aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are a terrible culprit when it comes to further damaging your stomach lining and can often be the actual cause of gastritis (14).
- Avoid refined foods such as breads, pasta and table sugar which are harder on your inflamed stomach lining
- Red meat can be harder to digest and can stress an inflamed stomach, so it’s a good idea to reduce your red meat intake, swap it with chicken or other good protein and iron sources, and slowly re introduce when symptoms dissipate. For non meat protein sources you may want to increase intake of beans and other legumes, soy foods, fish and eggs.
- Avoid beverages that increase acid production and irritate stomach lining such as coffee and carbonated beverages.
- Excessive alcohol can cause gastritis, but abstaining from alcohol from 3-4 weeks in combination with other treatments can really help with inflammation and H.Pylori control (15).
- You should also avoid citric fruit juices or any acidic foods
- Avoid fried or spicy foods which also irritate your inflamed stomach lining whilst it’s healing
- Foods high in fat tend to irritate stomach lining, including commercially-baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
- Some soups can also be high in fat and should be avoided whilst your stomach lining is healing.
- Avoid cigarettes, as smoking can increase the incidence of H.Pylori infection and inflammation (19).
- If you are lactose intolerant but tolerant of dairy other than milk, there is some evidence that intolerance can worsen with gastritis, so its worth keeping an eye on this and potentially reducing your intake for a few days.
As with all foods, it’s best to take note of what upsets your stomach and if something that should be healing actually upsets your stomach be sure to remove it from your diet. It’s important to ensure that you aren’t overly restricting your nutrient intake so look for alternative sources in particular of protein, fat or fibre in your diet if you are removing anything for a few weeks.
Foods to heal your stomach lining
- Drink a lot of water but be careful not to drink too much with food with an inflamed stomach.
- Eat smaller more regular portions of foods
- Eat dark leafy greens
- Eat antioxidant foods, including and vegetables (such as squash and capsicum) as research supports their protection against inflammation in the presence of H.Pylori (12)
- Once your stomach lining is less irritated you can introduce antioxidant fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes). However they may be too irritating initially
- Eat foods high in B vitamins and calcium, such as almonds and beans
- Eat more fish preferably fresh, or if you can’t get enough through diet you can take a fish oil supplement. Good fats and fish Oil is thought to assist in reducing the inflammation of the stomach.
- Opt for whole grains such as whole wheat, quinoa, whole oats and brown rice. Quinoa has been known to irritate some people’s stomach lining, as have other grains, so keep an eye on this.
- Cook with Tumeric and ginger, they are both have great anti inflammatory properties (Tumeric is one of the best out there).
- Eat foods rich in flavinoids, such as onions, garlic, cranberries as above. Flavinoids will help fight harmful bacteria in your gut.
- Many people believe that herbs can help reduce the inflammation of the stomach. Mastic, licorice and peppermint are known to help protect the stomach and speed up the recovery process.
- A lot of great research supports the use of Cranberry juice to suppress H. pylori. bacteria in your gut (18) It’s also great for treating urinary tract infections, so this old folk remedy is one to take seriously.
- Sip Licorice Root and/or chamomile tea
Ongoing Nutritional Tips for a healthy Stomach Lining
Once you’ve seen your GP, calmed down the symptoms of your gastritis and reduce your intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), it’s time to get serious about your diet and how to prevent further gastritis episodes and make that stomach lining resilient. Here are a few tips:
- Boost the good bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract to suppress the growth of bad bacteria. Research is strong with regards to Lactobacillus salivarius and Lactobacillus acidophilus as good probiotic bacteria which live in the gastrointestinal tract and have been found to suppress H.Pylori. colonisation as they reduce the ability of H.Pylori to adhere to the body’s cells (9,17). They are often recommended alongside antibiotic treatment of H.Pylori (10). Interestingly, there is also research showing some success in Lactobacillus salivarius reducing the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (12). There are plenty of probiotics on the market containing either L. salivarius and L.acidophilus.
- Ensure you have plenty of anti inflammatory foods in your diet such as those listed in the section above (healthy fats such as fish, turmeric, ginger etc).
- Research has indicated that diets excessively high in salt can upset the integrity of the gastric mucosa, which can cause inflammation in itself, as well as making it ripe for growth of H.Pylori (6) So go easy on salt in your diet.
- Studies have also shown that individuals with low serum levels of the iron binding protein, ferritin, can develop more severe diseases in response to an H.Pylori infection, compared with individuals with sufficient ferritin serum levels (7). More information on good Iron food sources can be found here
- There are also emerging studies into zinc and it’s effect on gastritis. Studies on short term supplementation with zinc sulfate reveal that individuals on zinc supplementation exhibited less incidence of gastritis than those without zinc supplementation (8). However, other studies have shown limited results. Given the importance of zinc in the diet, in particular for it’s effect on boosting immunity, it’s always worthwhile to ensure you are eating plenty of zinc rich foods, rather than relying on zinc supplements. Read this article on zinc sources for more information.
- Research has show that a diet high in antioxidants (vitamins E and C) can also help to reduce the risk of further gastrointestinal disease in the presence of H.Pylori bacteria (11). Read this article for more information on antioxidant foods and their sources, as well as some great recipes high in antioxidant nutrients.
- Drink Green Tea? Apparently so. Studies have shown that drinking green tea can provide anti inflammatory and antioxidant actions on the inflamed stomach lining, preventing further inflammation based disease of the gastrointestinal tract for those individuals at high risk (13). Given there are few side effects of green tea, and along with a diet full of antioxidants, this is absolutely worth a shot if you have recurring H.Pylori or ongoing gastritis and are at risk of further complications.
For more tips read these articles on Eating your way to a better Immunity, How to heal your Stomach Lining, Fibre, the Benefits of a Gluten free Diet for a Non Celiac, the different types of carbs explained, and the guide to clean eating.
Here are some recipes which can certainly help to calm an irritated stomach due to their anti inflammation ingredients:
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