We know that a strong, healthy gut is essential to our overall health. It isn’t just about digestion. It’s about maintaining a healthy immune system, warding off infections, even keeping the brain happy. Poor digestion can be an important early sign that your gut isn’t as strong or as healthy as it could be. Our guts have never been shy about telling us how they’re feeling. One way they tell us they’re feeling out of balance is through a condition known as gastritis.
A number of different factors can cause gastritis. The common element to all of them, though? Unwelcome bacteria in our guts. If you’re suffering from gastritis, it isn’t just a matter of dealing with an inconvenience. It’s a sign from your gut that it needs your attention.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining, or mucosa. Because it doesn’t cause the inflammation, gastritis might be better thought of as a symptom rather than an illness. Treating gastritis usually requires identifying and responding to the underlying problem causing the inflammation. Gastritis may develop slowly, over time (chronic gastritis), or it can happen suddenly (acute gastritis).
Left untreated, gastritis can become a significant problem. Chronic gastritis can lead to polyps, ulcers, and stomach bleeding. In some rare cases it can cause tumors—both benign and cancerous—to develop in the stomach lining.
What Causes Gastritis?
Gastritis has a number of different causes, but most have one thing in common: they involve imbalances in the gut biome.
- Helicobacter pylori: The presence of harmful bacteria in the stomach, such a H. pylori, can lead to gastritis. While most of us have some H. pylori in our bodies, if they overwhelm good bacteria they can cause health problems.
- Reactive gastropathy: Substances other than bad bacteria can also irritate the stomach lining, especially when it is exposed to them over a long period. Bile reflux, for example, can lead to gastritis. So too can overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. Too much alcohol, too much cocaine, even too much spicy food can all lead to gastritis.
- Acute erosive gastropathy: Some serious health problems, such as severe physical injuries, burns, or sepsis reduce blood flow to the stomach. Reduced blood flow puts stress on the stomach’s lining and can lead to gastritis.
- Autoimmune gastritis: An autoimmune disorder can cause your body to attack the cells in your stomach lining, leading to inflammation.
- Other diseases and conditions: Finally, certain diseases such as celiac disease, Chrohn’s disease, and sarcoidosis can disrupt the gut’s natural chemistry and lead to gastritis.
What Are Some Symptoms of Gastritis?
The symptoms of gastritis can vary from person to person and may depend on the specific cause of the gastritis. In general, however, they include:
- A feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen, especially after eating
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
In addition, if your gastritis has led to a stomach ulcer, you may notice blood in your vomit or stool.
Often the symptoms of gastritis resolve of their own accord. If they persist for longer than a week, however, you may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor, and if you think you’re suffering from a bleeding ulcer you may want to see a physician more immediately.
How can You Treat Gastritis?
Again, because gastritis is not itself an illness but rather caused by some other underlying factor, treatment will likely depend on what that cause is.
- Antacids: Doctors generally prescribe antacids to help reduce stomach acid and ease inflammation. In some cases, antacids by themselves can give the stomach lining time enough to heal.
- Antibiotics: H. pylori infections are usually treated using a combination of antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (a medicine designed to reduce acid in your stomach).
- Treatment for disease: If your gastritis is the result of a disease such as Chrohn’s disease, the best approach will likely involve treating the disease itself.
Can You Prevent Gastritis?
Not every type of gastritis is preventable, but there are steps you can take to help reduce the chances it will develop. Most of these involve improving your overall gut health, which can have additional benefits.
- Avoid ingesting substances that may cause or aggravate gastritis, including alcohol, tobacco, aspirin, ibuprofen, and spicy foods.
- Stress may also play a role in the development of gastritis. Use exercise and activities like meditation and yoga to reduce stress.
- Eat a high-fiber diet to help improve digestion and reduce the overproduction of stomach acid.
- Eat foods containing flavonoids, such as onions, tea, cranberries, apples, garlic and celery. Some studies have suggested these may help prevent gastritis.
- Consume Vitamin C. Vitamin C may help prevent gastritis. It has also been shown to improve the effectiveness of drugs used to treat H. pylori.
Taking a probiotic can also help. Researchers are increasingly convinced that eliminating problems like gastritis has to do with maintaining overall gut health. Probiotics, or “friendly” bacteria, can help maintain the balance between the good and bad bacteria in your body. This can restore health when your gut has been exposed to something harmful. In addition, it can even be used to treat gastritis due to a weakened immune system.
Gastritis isn’t necessarily a dangerous condition, but it can be frustrating, and if left untreated it can develop into something more serious. Perhaps more importantly, gastritis is a reminder that we all need to make sure our guts stay healthy and strong. The right diet, exercise, and probiotic supplements can not only help ease the symptoms of gastritis, they may be able to prevent many of its causes altogether.