Can raw garlic cure my stomach ulcer and remove H. pylori?
October 16, 2013 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a garlic treatment for my stomach ulcer, and have some concerns about whether this will work. My doctor has prescribed antibiotics, but my naturopath has recommended raw garlic (3-4 times daily) and I want to try that approach first, along with other supporting herbs. However I'm worried about the ramifications if this fails, because stomach ulcers are pretty serious from what I hear. Am I taking a big risk of perforation, cancer, internal bleeding etc. by not taking the medication? And is it possible that the garlic could eradicate H. pylori bacteria?

So, recently I had some sharp stomach pain and very strong hunger pangs; after seeing a doctor I tested positive for H. pylori, so he says it's conclusive. However I don't want to take the "triple therapy" he has prescribed: clarithromycin, amoxicillin and omeprazole, taken simultaneously. I feel these antibiotics will be really hard on my system and I'd rather try a natural approach first.

I found an herbalist/acupuncturist/naturopath who is well respected in the local alternative health community. She suggests that garlic will get the job done within a few weeks. She says to crush it into a spoon with a garlic press, and add manuka honey, then swallow it down and chase with a little water or goldenrod tea. Then wait at least 30 mins before eating. I'm having up to 8 cloves a day total. Also she has me supplementing with angelica bark, bitters and slippery elm bark (or marshmallow root). I'm being careful about my eating, mostly avoiding sugars, eating small meals. Also I'm using other supplements such as licorice extract, dried ginger, and shilajit. Sometimes even a little capsaican seems to help.

I've done a lot of googling and reading, including a couple of older threads here on AskMefi. There are a number of other natural approaches recommended, so I'm looking to maybe augment with pine nut oil, oregano oil, probiotics, mastica, zinc, possibly lauric acid. I'd like to hear from anyone who knows about this topic, treating an H. pylori peptic (stomach) ulcer via natural means. Or anyone who believes that I'm taking an unacceptable risk of complication by waiting any longer to take the antibiotic regimen. Thanks!
posted by TreeHugger to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Trust your doctor, he/she is using science based medicine.
posted by sanka at 10:58 AM on October 16, 2013 [41 favorites]

I feel these antibiotics will be really hard on my system...
Why do you think this? That seems to be the motivating factor in this decision.

Triple-antibiotic treatment of H. pylori is really effective (nearly 90%) and doesn't take more than a few weeks of treatment normally. My guess is that, even with the dubious antibiotic properties of garlic, you'd be lucky to see a single-digit success rate with the garlic treatment you describe.

One other thing: Ask your doctor about the clarithromycin--a lot of the strains of H. pylori are resistant these days, so rather than go through two rounds of treatment, ask her/him about adding or substituting a different antibiotic.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

My friend's younger sister is dead because she didn't treat a stomach ulcer. Bled out alone in her flat. Extreme example, but I wouldn't be messing about with garlic in your position.
posted by penguin pie at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2013 [16 favorites]

I feel these antibiotics will be really hard on my system

Not as hard on your system as an untreated ulcer.

Listen to your doctor. This is why they exist.
posted by bondcliff at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2013 [18 favorites]

It's possible that your naturopath could be using science-based medicine, too, if she has evidence that has been vetted using the scientific method. I have a naturopath whose background is in molecular biology, DNA sequencing and chemical engineering; he works primarily with a regular old HMO in my area. I trust him way more than the weird lady down the street who suggested my mom take diluted whatchamacallits all the time.

So ask your naturopath to provide some more evidence -- scientific studies showing the efficacy of the garlic treatment, or at the very least evidence showing that doing the garlic thing will not harm you any more than doing nothing. (See the previous comment about what could happen if you DO do nothing, and weigh the possibilities in your own situation.)

You have just as much right (if not more so) to be skeptical of the natural methods as you do to be skeptical of the "regular" ones. I went with natural medicine because the next step for me in the more clinical setting was much more of a physical and financial commitment than I was prepared to do, and it worked well for me. But I still told my guy that anything starting with the word "homeopathic" was total woo.
posted by Madamina at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, you can take a mixture of your options: many people on antibiotics also opt to take probiotics at the same time, on the theory that you are getting rid of undesireables while supporting the bugs that you do want in your gut.
posted by cubby at 11:09 AM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did a quick search for any published research on this topic. Here are the first three papers I found.

1. Neither garlic nor capsaicin had any in vivo effect on H. pylori... This study did not support a role for either garlic or jalapeños in the treatment of H. pylori infection.

2. this study showed no effect of garlic oil capsules on H. pylori infection.

3. There was no evidence that garlic supplements reduced the prevalence of H. pylori infection.

So far I haven't found any research which shows that garlic does have an effect on H. pylori, but I admit I only spent ten minutes on it. Maybe your naturopath can provide some citations.

Personally, I'd be taking the antibiotics.
posted by pont at 11:15 AM on October 16, 2013 [25 favorites]

Best answer: I have had good results with sea buckthorn oil to treat ulcers. There are some studies that suggest that garlic shows some promise in the treatment of H. Pylori, but, as referenced above, other studies have failed to find a link.

You should also realize that treating your H. Pylori is not quite the same as healing your ulcer. Removing the bacteria will not immediately cause your ulcer to vanish -- your body will need to heal itself, and this will be assisted by a cautious diet and possibly some natural remedies. Similarly, you may be able to lessen or even eliminate your ulcer symptoms by adhering to such a diet without treating the bacteria, but if the bacteria are causing your ulcer, the symptoms are likely to recur.

If I were you, I would run this by your doctor. I assume you had an endoscopy or some such to diagnose your ulcer -- ask him how far your condition has progressed, and if he believes that it would be dangerous to wait on the antibiotics by trying an alternative treatment. A good doctor will be receptive to your questions and give you an honest opinion as to whether it is safe for you to try the alternative treatment first.

If you decide to try the alternative treatment, agree on a time limit where you should see improvement or complete recovery, and follow through on the antibiotics if there are no results. And, again, keep in mind that the antibiotics are to kill the bacteria -- you should maintain a safe diet (and supplement with natural remedies, if you so choose) to help the actual ulcer heal no matter what approach you take.
posted by Behemoth at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Alternative treatment" is just what it says. An alternative to actual treatment. Trust the MD.
posted by stenseng at 11:38 AM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't screw around H. Pylori or an ulcer.

I'd do the antibiotics and work with my M.D. to minimize any issues that the antibiotics may be having on my digestion.

I don't love antibiotics, and I had a rough time during a course of Cipro. But here I am to talk about it. So...yeah. That.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really biased and fairly uniformed opinion here (I'm a biochemist working for a major drug company):

Naturopathy is really good at treating the cause of chronic conditions so that you don't get them again. In other words, strengthening the immune system, keeping your good microbes happy, dealing with mild chronic pain...that sort of thing.

Western medicine is really good at treating the symptom. In this case, you have some systemic situation that has allowed H. pylori to get a foothold in your stomach.

Step one: Take the damn antibiotics to get rid of the H. pylori before you get internal bleeding.

Step two: Have the naturopath help you to keep from getting it again.
posted by BearClaw6 at 11:43 AM on October 16, 2013 [26 favorites]

The discovery that H. pylori is the thing here is very new, relatively speaking. I had a friend who had ulcer problems before they were easily treated with antibiotics, and he suffered quite a bit.

It was quite a discovery.

For their work on H. pylori, Marshall and Warren shared a 2005 Nobel Prize. Today the standard of care for an ulcer is treatment with an antibiotic. And stomach cancer—once one of the most common forms of malignancy—is almost gone from the Western world.


I don't understand why you'd want to do this to yourself. I don't understand why you think the stuff the "herbalist/acupuncturist/naturopath" wants to give you is harmless yet strong enough to work, but the antibiotics are harmful. That's a logical fallacy so common as to have a name: appeal to nature.
posted by kmennie at 12:10 PM on October 16, 2013 [19 favorites]

You ask to hear from "anyone who believes that I'm taking an unacceptable risk of complication by waiting any longer to take the antibiotic regimen. "

I had an ulcer. It was torture. I couldn't sleep. I took medicine. It got better. Take the medicine.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:28 PM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

How would you know the H. pylori is really, truly gone? H. pylori is seems to have some correlation to other cancers - not just stomach cancer.

I'd have serious concerns that anyone who calls themselves a care provider is encouraging you to roll the dice on something that has no proven ability to eradicate H. pylori. Did this person have any research to share with you or do you just take her word for it?

A real treatment exists that has demonstrated efficacy. Take the antibiotics.
posted by 26.2 at 12:33 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How would you know the H. pylori is really, truly gone?

With another breath or stool test afterward to confirm.
posted by TreeHugger at 12:35 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the garlic failed after 8 weeks, would you do the antibiotics immediately? Or give the garlic another round?
posted by 26.2 at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

What does your doctor think of the garlic plan?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Steve Jobs believed in alternative medicine.

He had a lot of good ideas, but ignoring the mountains of medical research hard-working and bright people have put into finding cures for life-threatening ailments wasn't one of them.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:09 PM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had H. pylori infections with ulcers multiple times in my teens, and the second time my mother tried the all natural garlic route (although none of the other supplements you mention). I love raw garlic so I didn't mind the treatment, but it didn't do anything for me at all. YMMV, but I would take the antibiotics, talk to your doctor about the naturopath first, and keep in mind that garlic in the quantities you mention, as well as capsaicin or dried ginger can all be pretty harsh on your stomach.
posted by angst at 1:33 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: I have had the triple therapy you have been prescribed, twice. I had two duodenal ulcers.

Yes it's a little rough on your body, I was a little tired more than anything, but it's really not that bad. It's like the mildest little hangover and as an added bonus your teeth will feel incredibly clean. (I'm not sure why, antibiotics killing mouth fauna? Anyway, that was kind of novel.) It's as sure as hell a lot better than ulcers.

I saw a naturopath after the treatments and she helped be get my good gut fauna back. For what it is worth, she thought taking the triple therapy was the right thing to do.
posted by deadwax at 1:38 PM on October 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Have you voiced these concerns with your acupuncturist? Assuming she's licensed (I'm sure she is) and has a good reputation, I'm sure she would know if this is truly an acceptable approach to treating your ulcer. If you're worried about the possibility that they won't work and that you may be in a bad situation why don't you bring that up with her?

Garlic has extremely powerful antibacterial properties, as do many other well respected herbs. I feel like there are more powerful ones than the ones you list, however, and I would have expected her to prescribe more Chinese herbs than she did (and if any approach can treat this naturally then certainly Chinese medicine can).
posted by Blitz at 2:24 PM on October 16, 2013

Response by poster: Have you voiced these concerns with your acupuncturist?

Yes I have, she says not to worry about graver concerns like perforation, but that the garlic will take some weeks to eradicate this bacteria.

What does your doctor think of the garlic plan?

Well he says there's no proof that any other approach will work, other than antibiotics.

If the garlic failed after 8 weeks, would you do the antibiotics immediately? Or give the garlic another round?

Yes, probably if it didn't work in 2 or 3 weeks at most, I have the prescription here ready to take at any time. My stomach pain is there most days but not severe as it was a few weeks ago. It is worst in the middle of the night towards morning, when I'm emptiest.
posted by TreeHugger at 2:49 PM on October 16, 2013

Well he says there's no proof that any other approach will work, other than antibiotics.

He's not telling you that to be a jerk, or to bilk you, or because he feels like screwing with you. He's telling you that because it's true.

While I am a gigantic fan of science-based medicine, I also despise taking antibiotics, and believe they are extremely overused. Recently, I found myself in a much bigger world of hurt than I probably had to be, because I was so resistant to taking antibiotics when I needed them. I'd advise you to act smarter than I did. It sucks when stuff gets out of control, just because of your own stubbornness.
posted by Coatlicue at 4:01 PM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Btw, I've been reading about people taking several rounds of this triple therapy with antibiotics, and the pylori still not gone. So I don't have a lot of trust that one round will be enough.
posted by TreeHugger at 5:17 PM on October 16, 2013

If your doctor isn't alarmed at the idea, you're probably not risking perforation. You might be risking some extra pain and suffering, but you're a grown up, you can make these kind of choices.

Since the garlic approach is uncertain, how long are you going to give it, and what will you do if it doesn't work? Think about that now, have a plan.
posted by mattu at 5:30 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: I had H. Pylori. I had a stomach ulcer. Before realizing that I lost enough blood to spend a few days in the ICU and get a couple of bags of blood piped in. They ran out of good places to stick me and by the time I was released I had a full-on freakout when they went to draw blood. And then there was the fun part where I was so weak from blood loss that they wouldn't let me use the bathroom unassisted. My heart rate was so high I was uncomfortable.

It was pretty hard on my body.

The antibiotics were only mildly annoying, and they did the job.
posted by bunderful at 5:53 PM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might want to supplement your antibiotics with turmeric based products instead of garlic. Ask your naturopath for any FDA approved medications containing curucumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric.

Source: This paper published in the American Society for Microbiology. [There are many more references and papers through Google]
posted by theobserver at 6:48 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was *just* about to post a question about H. Pylori: from my perfunctory first pass at research, 50%+ of the US population is infected with it. Given that, should infections be treated at all? Or should watchful waiting be the first treatment?

Those with knowledge, please offer your insight!
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 9:23 PM on October 16, 2013

Response by poster: Yes, that's one of the reasons my naturopath gave for avoiding the antibiotics: that most people have it and are asymptomatic. Of course there are many different strains, some of which might be more ulcerogenic (is that a word?); also, in some people the level remains quite low indefinitely, I guess due to their body's resistance or some other factor.

I've just about decided that I'll start the 2 week course of antibiotics tomorrow. This better not cause some awful unexpected side effect or health complication! If anyone is interested to know the result, PM me in a month or so. Thanks for all the input.
posted by TreeHugger at 9:41 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

A bit of helpful support science to consider as well:
posted by perhapsolutely at 5:49 PM on October 17, 2013

I had an ulcer that was near perforation many years before they heard of H. pylori. I was given Tagamet, took it for six weeks and cleared up the ulcer. I was told to consider what dietary indiscretions or emotional turmoil had caused the ulcer and avoid repeating those conditions in the future. So far, so good.

Years later, I had severe problems with stomach acid and reflux. I tried a couple of meds that didn't work and then was given Nexium, which is a jewel. Yes, there are side effects, but death is a side effect of a perforated ulcer or esophageal erosion. I only take the Nexium when I have reflux symptoms and then only for a few days and everything is fine again.

My advice to you would be to take the omeprazole or antibiotic or whatever the doctor wants you to take until your ulcer is gone, then figure out what caused it in the first place and try to avoid those conditions in the future - and then make use of the good suggestions of your naturopath/herbalist, who can keep your stomach from eating itself (which is what it's doing when it becomes an ulcer). Slippery elm powder is supposed to be very soothing to the stomach lining and is even given to folks dealing with stomach cancer, but there are many good herbs and supplements.

Omeprazole won't kill Helicobacter pylori, I don't think. If you really have that, you will need an actual antibiotic, but most likely your doctor just wants to stop the acid problem first and then see what happens.

Good luck.
posted by aryma at 8:29 PM on October 17, 2013

Take the triple therapy. I had this back before it was recognized and there was no known treatment. I almost died from stomach ulcers and got "lucky" to have a doc who tried antibiotics and peptones bismol to fix it.

I did some research and found that sugars " lactose fructose sucrose etc" tend to help the H Pylori thrive. I stopped all those. I suspect that the garlic fights that bacteria but is not nearly effective enough to screw around waiting for it to work.
posted by OhSusannah at 3:34 AM on October 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I started the triple therapy a few days ago. deadwax is right about the teeth staying really clean, no matter what I eat it's like they brush themselves. I don't feel as horrible on antibiotics as I thought. Anyhow it's probably doing some unfortunate things to my body, but a hole in the stomach is also inconvenient, so I think this is the best decision. I would say I'll post again about how it went, but I think the threads automatically close after a bit.

Anyway aryma you're right about some lifestyle changes, probably it's partly because I haven't been getting enough sleep for quite some weeks now. And also eating too much cuz I started working at an office. I'm out of tune with my body lately. :-( well now I see what that can lead to.
posted by TreeHugger at 9:18 PM on October 19, 2013

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