Do Spicy Foods Really Cause Ulcers?

By Amir Khan on August 29, 2012 12:13 PM EDT

Jalapeno
After a night of eating spicy foods, your stomach might not feel so great. You may suffer from indigestion or other stomach ailments, but can eating spicy foods really cause an ulcer? (Photo: Creative Commons)

After a night of eating spicy foods, your stomach might not feel so great. You may suffer from indigestion or other stomach ailments, but can eating spicy foods really cause an ulcer?

"[This] is such a common misconception," Dr. Christian Mathy, assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Francisco, told Everyday Health. "There is an important distinction to make: What you eat is not going to cause an ulcer, but it is true that there are some things that can make your ulcer pain a lot worse."

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Ulcers are open sores in the lining of the stomach or the first part of the small intestines. They occur when stomach acid comes into contact with and eats away at the interior lining of the stomach. Ulcers cause a burning feeling in stomach, bloating, heartburn and nausea.

For years doctors attributed ulcers to spicy food, and "treated" the ulcer by telling patients to avoid spicy foods and eat a bland diet, which didn't get rid of the pain.  But in the 1980's, doctors finally realized that it was just an old wives tale, and that while spicy foods can aggravate ulcers, they cannot cause them.

"It's a myth that spicy foods or a stressful job can cause peptic ulcers," according to the Mayo Clinic. "Doctors now know that a bacterial infection or some medications - not stress or diet - cause most peptic ulcers."

It turns out that the culprit is actually a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. When the bacteria enters the stomach, it begins excreting enzymes to protect it from the stomach's destructive acid. It then buries itself in the stomach lining to avoid white blood cells, which results in ulcers as the bacteria reproduce.

Treatments have advanced as well. Instead of prescribing a bland diet, doctors now administer a simple course of antibiotics to get rid of it. Patients can also drink cranberry juice, which has been shown to help treat ulcers.

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