Gastritis is a condition in which the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed, leading to discomfort. If the inflammation is prolonged, either atrophic gastritis (a condition in which the glands of the stomach lining disappear) or an ulcer may develop. Underlying causes of gastritis include infection with the organism Helicobacter pylori; excessive stomach acid secretion; autoimmune processes (conditions in which the body attacks itself); and damage to the stomach lining caused by alcohol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, or severe stress.

Gastritis typically causes pain in the upper abdomen (just below the sternum), but it may also occur without pain. A burning sensation higher up in the chest (heartburn) generally indicates esophageal reflux. Stomach distress may also occur without inflammation of the stomach wall; in that case, it is called dyspepsia.

Conventional treatment for gastritis includes antibiotics to eliminate H. pylori; reducing stomach acidity with medications in the antacid, H2 blocker, or proton pump inhibitor families; and possibly using medications to protect the stomach lining. In addition, it is important to reduce alcohol consumption and change (or, if possible, stop taking) medications that damage the stomach. Vitamin B12 supplementation may be necessary in some cases of atrophic gastritis.

Newer anti-inflammatory drugs in the COX-2 inhibitor family, such as Celebrex ( celecoxib) and Vioxx ( rofecoxib), were designed to cause less harm to the stomach than the older drugs in that category (such as aspirin and ibuprofen). However, current evidence remains mixed on how much better these drugs really are compared to the old ones. More sophisticated forms of inhibitors that are currently moving toward the market may better fulfill the promise of these medications.

Proposed Natural Treatments

No herbs or supplements (other than alkaline substances with direct antacid properties, such as calcium carbonate or hydrotalcite) have been proven effective for gastritis. The treatments mentioned below have merely shown some promise in preliminary studies.

Natural Therapies That May Affect H. Pylori

As discussed above, H. pylori is thought to contribute to many cases of gastritis. A number of treatments have been evaluated to see whether they inhibit H. pylori ’s growth. For example, evidence suggests that various probiotics (friendly bacteria) in the Lactobacillus family can inhibit the growth of H. pylori.1-4 While this effect does not appear to be strong enough for probiotic treatment to eradicate H. pylori on its own, preliminary studies (one of which was double-blind5) suggest that probiotics may help standard antibiotic therapy work better, improving the rate of eradication and reducing side effects.6-11

Highly preliminary studies suggest that various bioflavonoids can inhibit the growth of H. pylori as well.12 All fruits and vegetables provide bioflavonoids, but these substances can also be taken as supplements.

Vitamin C has also shown some ability to act against H. pylori.13

Despite early reports that garlic inhibits or kills H. pylori, studies in people have not been promising.14,15

Fish oil in combination with antibiotic therapy has been tried as a treatment for eradicating H. pylori, but it did not prove particularly helpful.16

The herb cranberry is thought to help prevent bladder infections by preventing adhesion of bacteria to the bladder. Preliminary evidence suggests that it might also help prevent the adhesion of H. pylori to the stomach wall.17 Theoretically, this could help treat gastritis, but as yet there is no direct evidence regarding this potential benefit.

Cayenne does not appear to be helpful against H. pylori.15 However, some evidence suggests that cayenne can protect the stomach against damage caused by anti-inflammatory drugs.18-20 Other natural supplements that have shown promise for protecting against the side effects of these drugs include the amino acid cysteine,21 a special form of licorice known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL),22,23 and the breast milk constituent known as colostrum.24,25

Other Natural Therapies That May Protect the Stomach Lining

A collection of substances extracted from beeswax has been studied as a treatment for preventing and treating ulcers of various kinds, with promising results.26 Known as D-002, this product is chemically related to policosanol; however, policosanol itself is not thought to have this effect. (To make matters more confusing, a similar beeswax extract is sold in the US as policosanol.)

Very weak evidence also suggests that butterbur27,28 and cinnamon22,23 might help protect the stomach lining.

Other substances have also been suggested as aids to stomach health, but as yet there is little to no scientific evidence that they are effective for gastritis. These include the following:

Many naturopathic physicians believe that the supplement betaine hydrochloride can aid gastritis by increasing stomach acid. This sounds paradoxical, since conventional treatment for this condition involves reducing stomach acid. However, according to one theory, lack of stomach acid leads to incomplete digestion of proteins, and these proteins cause allergic reactions and other responses that lead to an increase in ulcer pain. Again, scientific evidence is lacking.

Note: Symptoms of gastritis are similar to those of nonspecific dyspepsia (stomach pain with no known cause). If you suffer from stomach discomfort but your doctor does not think you have gastritis, ulcer disease, esophageal reflux, or any other specific illness, you might benefit from the natural treatments discussed in the dyspepsia article.

For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to gastritis, see the Homeopathy database.

Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution

A number of herbs and supplements might tend to increase stomach inflammation, including arginine, cola nut, feverfew, turmeric, and white willow.

In addition, various supplements may interact with drugs used to treat gastritis. For more information, see the specific drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.