Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on November 02, 2020

What Causes Ulcers?

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Doctors used to think that certain foods could give you ulcers. But now we know other things cause them, like taking pain-relieving drugs for a long time or infection with bacteria called H. pylori.Although food doesn’t cause or treat ulcers, some can make your pain worse, while others may help you heal faster.

Best: Foods With Probiotics

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Foods like yogurt, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh are rich in “good” bacteria called probiotics. They may help ulcers by fighting an H. pylori infection or by helping treatments work better.

Best: Fiber-Rich Foods

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Apples, pears, oatmeal, and other foods that are high in fiber are good for ulcers in two ways. Fiber can lower the amount of acid in your stomach while easing bloating and pain. Research has also shown that a diet rich in fiber may help prevent ulcers.

Best: Sweet Potato

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It’s high in vitamin A, and there’s evidence that this nutrient can help shrink stomach ulcers and may also play a role in preventing them. Other foods with a good dose of vitamin A include spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, and beef liver.

Best: Red Bell Pepper

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It’s rich in vitamin C, which can help protect you from ulcers in a number of ways. For one, vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing. People who don’t get enough are also more likely to get ulcers. Get this nutrient in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, and broccoli, too.

Worst: Milk

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Doctors used to tell people to drink milk to treat their ulcers. That was before better remedies, like acid-blocking drugs, came along. Today we know milk can’t help prevent or relieve an ulcer. In fact, it might actually make things worse by prompting your stomach to make more acid.

Worst: Alcohol

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If you’re prone to ulcers or have one now, it’s best to limit alcohol or avoid it altogether. Research has shown that booze irritates and can even damage your digestive tract. It can make ulcers worse.

Worst: Fatty Foods

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They take longer to digest, which can lead to belly pain and bloating -- bad news if you have an ulcer. If they make your stomach feel worse, take a break from them.

Spicy Foods: It Depends

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For a long time, doctors thought spicy food was a major cause of ulcers. We now know this isn’t true. Still, some people find that it makes their symptoms worse. Avoid it if it causes you pain.

Citrus Fruits: It Depends

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At first, it would seem to make sense that acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes would aggravate ulcers. But there’s no strong evidence that they have any effect on them. Still, we all have unique reactions to foods, so if acidic ones make your ulcer feel worse, skip them.

Chocolate: It Depends

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Chocolate has lots of potential health benefits. But it often causes discomfort for some people who have ulcers. If eating chocolate makes you feel worse, wait to indulge until your ulcer has healed.

Caffeine: Ask Your Doctor

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The research is mixed on whether caffeine -- coffee in particular -- makes ulcers feel worse. Yet it’s still common advice to cut it out if you have one. Ask your doctor, but you may not have to give up coffee as long as your symptoms don’t get worse.

Show Sources

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SOURCES:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers).”

Mayo Clinic: “Peptic Ulcer,” “Belching, intestinal gas and bloating: Tips for reducing them.”

Current Opinion in Biotechnology: “Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond.”

Frontiers in Microbiology: “Fermented Foods: Are They Tasty Medicines for Helicobacter pylori Associated Peptic Ulcer and Gastric Cancer?”

World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology: “Use of probiotics in the fight against Helicobacter pylori,” “Consumption of spicy foods and the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome.”

International Journal of Food Properties: “Probiotics for cure of Helicobacter pylori infection: A review.”

Arquivos Brasileiros de Cirurgia Digestiva (Brazilian Archives of Digestive Surgery): “Nutritional care in peptic ulcer.”

PLoS ONE: “Association of peptic ulcer disease with obesity, nutritional components, and blood parameters in the Korean population,” “No Association of Coffee Consumption with Gastric Ulcer, Duodenal Ulcer, Reflux Esophagitis, and Non-Erosive Reflux Disease: A Cross-Sectional Study of 8,013 Healthy Subjects in Japan.”

Canadian Family Physician: “How diet and lifestyle affect duodenal ulcers. Review of the evidence.”

CDC: “Helicobacter pylori and Peptic Ulcer Disease.”

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: “Diet, Nutrition, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Effectiveness of Citrus Fruits on Helicobacter pylori.”

Harvard Medical School: “Peptic Ulcer.”

International Journal of Tissue Reactions: “Cytoprotective effect of vitamin A and its clinical importance in the treatment of patients with chronic gastric ulcer.”

American Journal of Epidemiology: “Prospective study of diet and the risk of duodenal ulcer in men.”

The Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition: “Prevention of duodenal ulcer formation in the rat by dietary vitamin A supplementation.”

National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin A,” “Vitamin C.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Peptic Ulcers.”

Digestive Diseases and Sciences: “Vitamin C, Gastritis, and Gastric Disease: a historical review and update.”

World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Consumption of spicy foods and the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome.”

American College of Gastroenterology: “Gastroparesis.”