by AMY ANDERSON, Daily Mail
Published: 30 January 2002
A treatment for stomach ulcers has been discovered in a gum derived from pistachio nuts. More than six million people a year are affected by ulcers – and not just the elderly. Increasing numbers of people in their 20s and 30s are developing them due to high levels of stress and bad diets.
And the complaint can lead to stomach cancer. One victim, a woman in her mid-20s, told Good Health how the new treatment helped her.
When Freya Pietzsch started to suffer from nausea, heartburn and severe indigestion on a regular basis, usually after a night out, she put it down to a lingering flu bug. After all, she was only 26.
She battled on for a few months before seeing her GP, who shocked her by diagnosing an ulcer.
‘I was surprised,’ said Freya, a personal assistant from Bishopstone in Bristol, ‘because I thought stomach ulcers usually affected older people and were largely as a result of very high levels stress. Although work can be hard sometimes, I’ve never considered myself a stressed person.
‘But I do drink quite a lot, which I was told by my GP could increase my likelihood of getting ulcers.’ Freya’s ulcer was caused by the Helicobacter Pylori (H pylori) bacteria. This dangerous and resilient bacteria is found in the stomachs of 90 per cent of peptic ulcer sufferers.
It is usually picked up in childhood but can survive in the stomach for long periods without being killed off by stomach acid.
In adulthood, as the stomach lining is weakened due to illness, stress, lack of sleep and excessive alcohol consumption, the H pylori bacteria is able to attack the cells more aggressively. Then stomach ulcers begin to form in the wall lining.
In the past, men have tended to have more stomach ulcers than women because they drink more, but now ulcers are a growing health concern among young women of the ‘ladette’ culture.
‘I thought treating it would simply be a matter of a short course of antibiotics to clear it up,’ says Freya, ‘and that is exactly what my GP gave me.
‘But the symptoms came back again soon after I stopped the antibiotics and I began to get concerned. I hadn’t taken it very seriously until I read that ulcers in the stomach could be one of the causes of stomach cancer.’
‘After the first course of antibiotics, I went back to drinking, but after the second course I stopped altogether.
‘Although the severity of my symptoms died down after I stopped drinking and started getting plenty of sleep, they did not entirely go away and would flare up sporadically.
‘I must admit I did resume my old lifestyle again once the ulcer died down, but I noticed that my symptoms always flared up after a series of late nights out.
‘After a particularly bad flare-up seven months ago, I tried a third course of antibiotics but had the same sideeffects as when I’d taken the second course and my symptoms didn’t seem to improve.
‘I was getting worried now because the ulcer was starting to make me feel really ill a lot of the time and I didn’t know what else I could try.
‘It was affecting my social life too, because I couldn’t drink or stay out late at parties with friends.
‘Eventually, a friend of a friend said her father had tried something called mastic gum, which I later learned was a natural resin taken from a Mediterranean pistachio tree, and it had cured his ulcer.
‘I looked it up on the internet and found a supplement which is made from powdered mastic gum. I rang the manufacturers and they sent me a lot of information.
‘I began taking two grams a day in tablet form. After three weeks my symptoms had subsided, and within a month they were practically gone.’
Dr Dlawer Aldeen is a consultant microbiologist at Nottingham City Hospital who recently carried out the first UK clinical study on mastic gum and its effects on the H pylori bacteria.
He says: ‘It has been known for many years that mastic gum can help clear up peptic ulcers and there have been several clinical studies on its effects in countries outside the UK in the past decade.
But my attention was caught when I realised that mastic gum in higher doses – up to three grams a day – actually killed the H pylori bacteria permanently.’
The usual treatment for stomach ulcers is a course of antibiotics containing Metronidizole.
‘The trouble is,’ says Dr Aldeen, ‘that Metronidizole is also prescribed for a number of other illnesses, not just ulcers.
‘So people who have taken a lot of antibiotics in childhood for other illnesses and who already have the H pylori bacteria have started to develop an immunity or adverse reactions to the drug.
‘However, mastic gum appears to attack the H pylori bacteria directly, without any negative side-effects.’
Freya has now been free of her ulcer symptoms for almost six months.
‘I couldn’t believe that the mastic gum had such a quick and effective impact,’ she says. ‘Within four weeks all my symptoms had gone.