Recently I’ve seen an uptick in gastritis cases, and it’s no wonder: Though it has many causes, gastritis is fueled by stress, and collectively we are all experiencing a great amount of stress at this point in time.
My client “Amber” had terrible anxiety during the day and gastritis burning so bad it kept her up at night, and she couldn’t sleep. She was dragging herself through her days and couldn’t be present for her kids. “Lynn” had numerous gastro-intestinal issues that worsened her gastritis and her stress levels. She also struggled with anxiety. These ladies recently came to me for help because their doctors sent them packing with omeprazole (a PPI: proton pump inhibitor), which they didn’t want to take long term.
If you have gastritis, your doctor will likely recommend acid blocking or reducing drugs to address the burning. While these drugs can help reduce acid in the stomach to relieve burning, they don’t actually heal the stomach lining. I’ll review strategies to help you heal gastritis naturally with diet and supplements you can use to heal your gut and stomach and reduce pain. I’ll also discuss lifestyle habits to prevent flares and recurrence.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is erosion and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastric mucosa) that causes burning, gnawing, and pain. It’s caused by irritation either from food, medications (especially NSAIDs), booze, h pylori infection, stress (I see this often), or other infections caused by viruses or bacteria. The H pylori bacterium is one big cause of gastritis. Frequent use of NSAIDs like Advil is another very common cause I see. Alcohol is also a big one.
Gastritis develops due to a weakened lining of the digestive tract, specifically the mucus-lined barrier that normally keeps digestive acids and juices from damaging the stomach. Studies suggest that adults over the age of 60 tend to experience a gradual erosion of the stomach lining, higher rates of infections (like h pylori), and nutrient deficiencies that can all make gastritis symptoms worse.
You can have chronic (ongoing) or acute (sudden bout that comes and goes) gastritis. I’m discussing long term treatment for persistent, chronic gastritis here, but you can use these strategies for acute gastritis, especially if you’re experiencing repeated bouts. Acute gastritis can last 2-10 days and can be resolved with symptomatic treatment like avoiding trigger foods and using soothing herbs like DGL licorice, aloe, and slippery elm.
If you have gastritis, you probably know it from the pain and burning (main symptoms), but it may be asymptomatic. Main symptoms of gastritis include the following:
- nausea, indigestion, ongoing feeling of fullness
- abdominal pain
- burning or gnawing that’s worse between meals or at night
- loss of appetite
- black, tarry stool
An upper GI endoscopy and biopsy will diagnose gastritis. You should also be tested for h pylori, a main cause of gastritis. Your doctor can test you during an endoscopy or via breath test, or you can (and should) do a stool test that includes an h pylori panel to assess the health of your gut. I recommend the GI MAP (which you can order here, 7th down the list) which has an extensive h pylori section.
Heal Gastritis Naturally
It’s important to address chronic gastritis not only because of the pain and irritation involved, but also because it puts you at risk for gastric cancer if left untreated.
The first step in gastritis relief and healing is to determine the cause, as that impacts treatment to a degree. Ideally you’ve tested for h pylori and done an assessment to inventory your potential causes. If the cause is h pylori, for example, you’ll want to do a protocol along with the gastritis diet to eradicate the h pylori. Click here for my h pylori protocol.
Secondly, remove trigger foods. These are foods that irritate the stomach lining and worsen pain and burning. Gastritis trigger foods include the following:
- Tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato products
- Spicy foods and hot spices like chili powder, cayenne, hot peppers, hot sauce, curry, etc
- Coffee (yes, even low acid coffee)
- Red meat may worsen gastritis, so you may need to limit or eliminate red meats or any animal protein that irritates your stomach lining
I also recommend removing gluten and dairy and focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet. You’ll need to avoid these triggers foods for several months until the stomach lining heals, then you can begin to slowly reintroduce some foods.
Thirdly, include healing foods to speed gastritis healing:
- A daily 12 oz mug of bone broth with sea salt to heal stomach and intestinal lining. You can buy it here.
- Increase anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids from salmon, sardines, chia, flax, walnuts, leafy greens.
- Increase omega 9 fats from olive oil, avocado, almonds, macadamia.
- Increase cruciferous and leafy greens which are healing to the stomach lining. Here’s a great recipe for kale and brussels sprouts that uses bone broth too.
- Boost up on your antioxidants, especially berries, alliums, and brightly colored fruits & veggies. Try this red juice that is very antioxidant-rich.
- Aloe juice on an empty stomach can soothe burning. You can also take concentrated aloe capsules.
- Slippery elm tea is also soothing (note: when drinking tea or any beverage, make sure it’s warm and not hot. Hot food & drink irritates an already inflamed stomach lining).
- If you tolerate whey, try this whey-based smoothie powder that contains beneficial healing immunoglobulins. Avoid if you’re sensitive to dairy.
Here’s an example gastritis daily diet plan (eating more frequent, smaller meals usually helps):
- Wake up, big glass of room temp water with electrolytes (try these) to rehydrate.
- If you’re missing your coffee, try Mudwtr or green tea, warm but not hot.
- Smoothie for breakfast with berries, banana or avocado, handful spinach, bone broth protein or whey protein
- Mug of bone broth
- Mid-morning snack is 2 hard boiled eggs or smoked salmon and cucumber
- Light lunch is kale-brussels hash
- Mid-afternoon snack is a keto protein bar
- Dinner is lentils and greens (recipe here) or if you can tolerate animal protein, chicken thighs with sweet potato and sauteed spinach.
Supplements to Heal Gastritis
- This mastic gum & zinc carnosine formula heals the stomach lining and will kill h pylori if it’s present.
- Curcumin is very anti-inflammatory and may speed gastritis healing.
- DGL chewable tabs are useful for burning as needed, or take 2 before meals.
- Enzymes to help digestion (avoid enzymes with HCl!)
- Colostrum contains immunoglobulins that speed healing.
- GI Revive is glutamine-based to heal stomach and gut lining. Also contains zinc carnosine which is necessary for tissue healing.
- High doses of omega 3 fatty acids are also very beneficial for inflammation and healing.
- If needed: clinical trials support melatonin for gastritis and GERD healing. It seems to be beneficial in healing GI disorders and ulcers. (source)
Lifestyle Tips for Gastritis
The tricky issue with gastritis is that you can be doing everything right and avoiding your trigger foods and still get a flare up of burning. These flares are typically stress-induced, and that can include emotional stressors or even a night or poor sleep.
Gastritis is worsened by (and caused by) stress. If you’re under chronic stress, your fight or flight mode is constantly triggered, and cortisol levels increase. High cortisol is inflammatory and changes the terrain of the gut. Additionally, chronic stress results in the decrease of gastric renewal, leading to atrophy of the gastric mucosa. Blood flow to the stomach decreases and makes the stomach more prone to acid-pepsin ulceration and hyperacid secretion. (source) Basically when you’re in constant fight or flight mode, digestion suffers in many different ways, as your body is focused on keeping you alive and isn’t in rest and digest mode.
Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, get a handle on your stress levels, and get some movement daily. Other tips to keep in mind:
- Reduce stress by balancing sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous system. This can be achieved with breathing exercises, meditation, daily walks, for example. Try forest bathing!
- Avoid use of NSAIDs.
- Don’t smoke.
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals may help gastritis pain. Don’t stuff yourself. The gnawing and burning may get worse with an empty stomach, so you may need a snack before bed (a banana with nut butter is a good option) if the burning wakes you up at night.
- Don’t eat or drink hot foods or beverages.
- Stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water and herbal teas like slippery elm, marshmallow root.
It is possible to heal gastritis naturally with diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes. It takes some time–several months on average–hard work, and patience. But the stomach lining can be repaired. I recommend seeking help so you can have a professional run further GI testing and design a customized protocol to fit your personal needs.
Let me know in the comments below what has helped you with gastritis!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.