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Most Nigerians believe that ulcer is caused by the consumption of certain foods like groundnut, garden egg, fried cassava, and spicy food to mention a few. While others believe taking some drinks causes the disease. However, Dr Ndubisi Onuoha, a Senior Consultant Physician and Pulmonologist at Gwarinpa District Hospital said all these beliefs are pervasive myths, adding that the major causes of ulcer is a bacteria called helicobacter pylori and stress.
An ulcer is an open wound that can appear anywhere in the body, but generally refers to the type of open sore that occurs in the digestive tract and causes pain, indigestion and other discomforts during and after food intake.
Dr Onuoha said the first misconception is that many people refer to the disease as stomach ulcer, “we don’t call it stomach ulcer but peptic ulcer because it can affect the stomach and the intestine. Clinically, we cannot identify which ulcer someone has until a test called endoscopy is conducted to diagnose the type of ulcer,that is why we call it peptic ulcer.
He explained that the stomach produces mucus to cover the surface of the cell wall because the stomach also produces acid to defend the stomach against infection.
“When you are under stress or worried, the production of the mucus goes down and there is enhanced production of acid, that is the emotion increases the production of acid, and the stomach wall is supposed to be protected from the acid by the mucus. Unfortunately, the mucus production is reduced by the same agent that increases the acid. So overtime ulcer will take place,” he said. He said ulcer is a curable condition if treated between two to three months. “When you see people who have recurrent ulcer, coming back from time to time, it is evidence that the individual has issues with stress or emotion and there is the need to take care of it.
“Physicians can take care of the body but individuals should take care of their mind. Such issues that get individuals agitated people need to live above them and overcome them then, the ulcer can be healed,” he said.
On the popular belief that not eating or fasting can lead to ulcer, he said fasting cannot aggravate ulcer but fasting in addition with stress can cause ulcer. He said: “If a person is chronically under stress and not eating well, it will bring ulcer. Once there is ulcer then fasting can be an issue because if the person fasts, he will have pain, and if he eats things that are acidic or certain spices it will induce pain. If fasting results in pain, then a lot of clergy that fast often would have been affected.”
He said there is no connection between eating fried food and ulcer, adding that however, fried food is not healthy- not because the person has ulcer, but because it is terribly unhealthy for anyone, whether you have ulcer or not.
Dr Onuoha said there are also certain spices that may aggravate ulcer pain but ultimately will help heal it, such as; Cayenne pepper, sombo in Yoruba. “If the pepper is taken continuously, the ulcer will be healed because it encourages blood flow. Healing is enhanced when there is a lot of blood supply. By opening the blood vessel around the ulcer, the ulcer is healed but you have to go through the pain at that moment.”
Contrary to the prevailing assumption of drinking milk when there is ulcer pain, he said the consumption of milk is wrong, explaining that there is an initial reduction of pain and it escalates again eventually because the protein in milk is acidic.
He advised ulcer patients to take care of their emotion, eat as at when due, and eat alkaline based foods such as vegetables on daily bases, fruits, pawpaw, watermelon, pineapple, banana and others. He also advised against fruits like orange due to its acidic content. The treatment according to him is based on what causes the ulcer with possible treatments as antibiotic drugs to kill H.pylori bacteria in the digestive tract, and the doctor may also recommend antacids to neutralize stomach acid and reduce pain.