When someone is constantly complaining, somebody else may finally have to say, “stop your bellyaching.” Well, if your belly aches, you might feel fretful and complain a lot, or you might just give someone else a bellyache or a headache. Maybe it’s contagious.

When I was a medical student, ulcers, gastritis, heartburn, non-ulcer dyspepsia and other bellyaches were considered largely to be due to stress. Large bottles of Maalox and Valium were consumed, often to little effect. Surgery to cut nerves and reduce acid in the overactive stomach and to open drainage was a common procedure, the so-called vagotomy and pyloroplasty. Newer antacids called Histamine 2 blockers, like cimetidine, ranitidine and famotidine, offered hope for more effective relief and the need for surgery decreased dramatically. Cimetidine became a close friend of mine during my stressful final year of family medicine residency. It gave almost instant relief to my ulcer and stress-related bellyache.
Later, scientific studies showed other factors besides stress caused ulcers. Common over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen are irritants and a problem with nearly 20,000 people a year, mostly elderly, dying from GI hemorrhage attributed to these medications. Alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and spicy foods can also give us an upset stomach, heartburn and contribute to ulcers.

Some clever Australian researchers won a Nobel Prize when they discovered the association of a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, with peptic ulcer disease. This was a major conceptual breakthrough. It turns out infection with this little bugger was causing a lot of ulcers. While antacids helped, antibiotics and antacids together became the remedy of choice.
Newer antacids, the so-called proton pump inhibitors are even more powerful than fast acting H2 blockers. The first drug, omeprazole was followed by several other “purple pills,” like pantoprazole and esomeprazole, and these drugs almost completely shut down stomach acid secretion, thus immensely helping many suffering from belly aches.
While effective, these drugs should be taken for as limited a time as possible. Their ongoing use can increase heart attacks, pneumonia, bone fractures, reduce absorption of essential minerals and vitamins and promote bacterial infections in the gut. The miracle drugs come with a cost. They should not be stopped abruptly though and a tapering plan in consultation with your physician will help prevent rebound hyperacidity.

Some non-pharmacological options for gastritis, ulcers, dyspepsia, and reflux disease are the following:

• Deglycyrrhizinated licorice DGL: 2-4 tabs (380 mg) before meals

• Mastic gum: 500 mg three times daily

• Slippery elm: 2 tablespoons mixed in water after meals and at bedtime

• Aloe Vera juice: 1/2 a cup three times daily

• Cabbage juice: 1 glass twice daily

• Chamomile tea: 3 cups daily

• Turmeric: 600 mg 5X daily

• Glutamine: 2-3 grams in 3-4 divided doses for 4 weeks

• Stress reduction

• Breathing exercises

• Brief psychotherapy

• Hypnotherapy

• Mindful eating which helps with slower chewing, awareness of quality, quantity, irritants and aids digestion
So stop your belly from aching. Try some of the remedies noted here and if symptoms persist, by all means see your physician.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.