Natural Solutions to Chronic Stomach ProblemsJanuary 2008
By Julius G. Goepp, MD
Long recognized for their multiple health benefits,20,58 licorice extracts (with the potentially blood pressure-elevating glycyrrhizin molecule removed59) provide yet another nutritional weapon in fighting H. pylori infection. Various laboratory studies have shown that these extracts have potent anti-inflammatory activities, reducing cytokine production while increasing production of protective stomach mucus.60,61 Licorice extracts can also actually kill H. pylori in stomach tissue,19 even antibiotic-resistant strains of the organism.62,63 Indeed, in one laboratory head-to-head comparison, licorice extracts were as effective as famotidine in preventing ulcers,64 and animal studies have shown a potent effect on speeding the healing of existing ulcers.65 These characteristics of licorice neatly complement those of zinc-carnosine and cranberry extracts, and, in the words of Dr. Rea Krausse, a German microbiologist, provide “hope that it can form the basis for an alternative therapeutic agent against H. pylori.”63
Human studies conducted since the 1970s bear this out, showing that deglycyrrhizinated licorice could reduce aspirin-induced gastritis,66 and also promote healing of duodenal ulcers.67 The prestigious British Medical Journal published a report in 1978 showing that among patients 60 years and older, a deglycyrrhizinated licorice extract medication called “Caved-(S)” was as effective as cimetidine (Tagamet®), the first of the pharmaceutical anti-acid medications.68 The same researchers extended their findings in a 1982 study, enrolling 100 patients with endoscopically proven gastric ulcers and giving them either cimetidine or Caved-(S).69 At six weeks, 63% of patients were healed by endoscopic examination, and 91% at 12 weeks, with no difference between the drug and the licorice compound! And when the researchers examined the long-term effects of either treatment at preventing recurrence of ulcers, they again found that both the drug and the supplement had virtually identical effectiveness (and that ulcers rapidly recurred when either treatment was stopped).70
As we’ve seen, the “cocktail” of zinc-carnosine, cranberry, and deglycyrrhizinated licorice already provides a multi-armed approach to gastric protection and improved stomach health. News about another natural remedy called picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa) is now generating intense excitement in the medical community.71,72 Well known to practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine, picrorhiza is a perennial herb found high in the Himalayas. Its extracts are now being found to have potent antioxidant, 73-75 immune-stimulating,76-80 and anti-inflammatory81-84 properties—activities that clearly have a role in gastric protection. Since picrorhiza so dramatically combats the very changes caused by H. pylori (infection, inflammation, oxidant stress, and tissue injury), it’s no wonder that this ancient herb is now at the forefront of research on stomach health.
Already used to speed healing in other infectious gastrointestinal conditions such as hepatitis A,76,85 picrorhiza extracts also demonstrate unique wound-healing properties, stimulating tissue growth, nerve cell recovery, and blood vessel formation that may promote recovery from tissue damage.86-88 In a dramatic illustration of the extract’s ability to combat stomach ulcers, Indian scientists administered it to rats with ulcers induced by the potent NSAID indomethacin.89 Compared with an untreated group of animals, the supplemented group had much faster rates of ulcer healing, accompanied by a profound drop in levels of oxidized tissue components. And while antioxidant enzyme activity was decreased in the untreated animals, those treated with picrorhiza actually had elevated antioxidant activity.
The health of the stomach has, ironically, been one of the most neglected areas for which excellent nutritional support is known. As modern scientists begin to recognize the genuine value of ancient practices, using ultra-modern techniques to understand them, the situation is changing for the better. We now understand that H. pylori causes the majority of serious stomach ailments through a complex series of infectious, inflammatory, oxidative, and tissue-destructive processes. The nutrient combination of zinc-carnosine with cranberry extract, licorice extract, and now picrorhiza extract brings together for the first time the infection-fighting, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and tissue-healing capabilities of multiple compounds with complementary actions. It seems likely that widespread use of these supplements may help the rest of the world follow in the footsteps of the Japanese, who have reduced the rates of stomach disorders such as cancer by careful attention to nutritional education.33
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