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The Relationship Between Anxiety and Ulcers

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Felicity Bean ● 2 min read


People who suffer from anxiety are four times more likely to develop ulcers compared to those who don’t, according to results from a ten year prospective study.

Published in General Hospital Psychiatry and co-authored by Professor Nick Talley from the University of Newcastle, the study observed the link between anxiety and self-reported ulcer in over 2000 middle-aged males. Mental health and social factors were questioned and characteristics such as smoking and alcohol intake were taken into account.[1]

The authors wrote “our results suggest a strong relationship between anxiety and ulcer that persists over a long period and does not appear to be explained by any of the common confounders.” They noted that anxiety could cause ulcers by inducing increased gastric acid secretion.

Helicobacter pylori infection has long been accepted as being primarily responsible for the onset of peptic ulcers. This has been the case since 1984 when Australian microbiologist Professor Barry Marshall drank a petri dish of the bacteria and developed an ulcer, going on to win a noble prize for his work.

With the introduction of eradication therapies for H. pylori, such as triple therapy, the rates of the bacteria have been decreasing; yet ulcer complication rates have remained steady, which led to the theory that there could be multiple factors involved in what causes ulcers.

The results of this prospective study demonstrate that efforts at treating anxiety and/or reducing stress levels may play a role in reducing the risk of developing an ulcer.

People at risk of ulcer development due to stress and anxiety could benefit from the use of several traditional herbal medicines that have long been used in the treatment of mood disorders. These herbs include saffron, St John’s wort, mimosa and rhodiola, all of which have demonstrated ability to support healthy emotional and mood balance. 

Saffron has been used in traditional Persian medicine for supporting healthy mood balance [2] and has emerged as a leading herb in mood health. St John’s wort is one of the most scientifically validated herbal medicines for anxiety and mood support, with an excellent safety profile.[3]

Mimosa is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as the “happiness herb” and is used by TCM practitioners to calm the spirit, support healthy mood and memory, and reduce irritability, sleeplessness and stress.[4]

In addition, magnolia and phellodendren may aid in the relief of stress, nervous tension and mild anxiety. 

Nutrients such as B complex vitamins also contribute to healthy nervous system function and assist during times of stress. S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) can also help maintain a healthy mood as it naturally increases levels of dopamine and serotonin - the brain chemicals that determine our behaviour and mood.

References

  1. Taha F, Lipsitz JD, Galea S, et al. Anxiety disorders and risk of self-reported ulcer: a 10-year longitudinal study among US adults. General Hospital Psychiatry 2014, 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2014.07.005. [Abstract]
     
  2. Basti AA, Moshiri E, Noorbala AA, et al. Comparison of petal of Crocus sativus L. and fluoxetine in the treatment of depressed outpatients: a pilot double-blind randomized trial. Prog Neuro-Psychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2007;31:439-442. [Abstract
     
  3. Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, et al. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharm 2011;21(12):841-860. [Abstract
     
  4. Bensky D, Clavey S, Stoger E. Chinese herbal medicine materia medica, 3rd ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 2004. [Source]

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Felicity Bean
Felicity is a qualified Naturopath with over 15 years experience in the natural health industry. She has worked in pharmacy in both Melbourne and London and more recently in sales as a practitioner consultant for one of Australia's leading nutraceutical companies. Currently Felicity is a freelance health writer whilst also completing her Masters in Human Nutrition at Deakin University. Felicity has a passion for nutrition and the concept of food as medicine.