At any given time, as many as 5 million people are affected in the United States alone. Patients with peptic ulcer disease may experience a range of symptoms, from mild abdominal pain and burning to bleeding, vomiting, or catastrophic perforation of the organ lining, a life-threatening condition requiring emergency surgery.
Caused by the bacterium helicobacter pylori, the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. to alleviate arthritis), and a few other rare causes, ulcers are craters in the walls of the stomach or duodenum where the mucus layer is eroded and stomach acids eat away at the muscular layer that lies beneath.
If you’re in the US and see a doctor for ulcers, you will likely get a treatment that involves proton pump inhibitors, histamine receptor blockers, antibiotics, or antacids.
What you won’t get is a recommendation that you modify your nutrition.
Testing the power of cabbage
And yet diet matters. Cabbage juice in particular has proven itself as a potent healer of ulcers.
In the late 1940s Dr. Garnett Cheney of Stanford University noticed that when researchers fed cabbage leaves and juice to guinea pigs they were unable to induce ulcers in the guinea pigs’ digestive tracts. In these animals cabbage seemed to have protective properties. It made Cheney wonder: Might this also work for humans?
In 1948 he ran a small pilot study.[i] He enlisted thirteen ulcer patients, put them up in hospital beds, and administered each day 4 1/4 cups of freshly pressed raw juice from green cabbages. He measured the healing times and compared them to the results of a baseline study that had relied on the then standard regimen of bland diet, milk, gastric alkalinization, and antispasmodics. The results were impressive:
The average crater healing time for seven of these patients who had duodenal ulcer was only 10.4 days, while the average time as reported in the literature, in 62 patients treated by standard therapy, was 37 days.
The average crater healing time for six patients with gastric ulcer treated with cabbage juice was only 7.3 days, compared with 42 days, as reported in the literature, for six patients treated by standard therapy.
Cheney concluded that cabbage had an unknown healing compound, which he called vitamin U (for “ulcer”).
The medical field ignores research
Then something curious happened: Even though Cheney published his findings in peer-reviewed journals, the American medical establishment largely ignored them. The idea that cabbage juice has medicinal benefits has since fallen into oblivion, and medical consensus in the United States is that nutrition has no impact on ulcers. Here is how the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Disease puts it:
Researchers have not found that diet and nutrition play an important role in causing or preventing peptic ulcers. Before acid blocking drugs became available, milk was used to treat ulcers. However, milk is not an effective way to prevent or relieve a peptic ulcer.
Luckily there have been scientists who continued to investigate vitamin U. They have identified the compound as DL-Methionine methylsulfonium chloride (MMSC), but it also goes by a number of other names: methylmethioninesulfonium chloride, s-methyl-l-methionine, cabagin, to name a few.[iv] If you are interested in immersing yourself into the nomenclature of vitamin U, take a look at the PubChem database at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
What insights have these men and women produced? Here are two examples: In 2009 a Japanese research team found that vitamin U, when administered to rats, increases their production of mucin – a gel-forming protein protecting their gastro-intestinal tract.[v]
In the same year a team of Korean researchers found that vitamin U facilitates wound closure by promoting the growth of human dermal fibroblasts – skin cells that specialize in building connective tissue.[vi]
All told, there are good reasons why those who heal ulcers might want to give cabbage juice a second look.
And ulcerative colitis?
If ulcers are unpleasant, ulcerative colitis is truly ugly. It is an auto-immune disease of the gastrointestinal tract that involves ulceration. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America says:
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.
Dispersed success stories
While I don’t know of any peer-reviewed literature demonstrating that cabbage heals colitis, there are small pieces of anecdotal evidence to that effect.
Anecdote number one comes from the video SuperJuiceMe!, produced by Jason Vale. Vale, who passionately believes in the power of juicing and makes a living from it, owns a spa in Portugal. He invited eight men and women who collectively suffered from 22 civilizational diseases, to spend 28 days in this resort and consume nothing but fresh juice. Among the participants was 29 year old Jon from Cincinnati, Ohio. He suffered from ulcerative colitis and had stopped taking his prescription drugs because they contained steroids that gave him cataracts. Initially the juice experiment did not work for him. But once Vale switched him to cabbage juice, Jon’s condition markedly improved. At the end of the video he says that cabbage juice has cleared him of all his symptoms.
Anecdote number two is this somewhat obscure post to the Crohn’s Forum, made in late 2011 by a woman from the United Kingdom with the pen name Silken:
I am a grandmother and I was diagnosed 5 years ago with UC.. and my life has been one long misery since then. I try and keep myself busy, large beautiful garden, cat/kitten fosterer, chickens at the bottom of the garden, and I look after friends’ computers for them…
Since April, I have had a terrible time. It was bad before then but now it was getting pretty bad. Months went by and I was getting desparate. I was visiting the toilet 40+ times a day.
I came across articles that were for and against using ‘Cabbage Juice’ and that it had been used in an experiment in the 1940s and found it cured 67 out of 69 men of stomach ulcers… I thought I have nothing to lose, so I stopped taking my medicine as I believed it were not effective and started a regime of taking 4 oz of cabbage juice 4 times a day.. Well, I was virtually on my knees by the time I had read about this and sent my husband in the evening to get me some cabbage…I juiced it and drank the 4 oz and I couldn’t believe it… I didn’t go to the toilet until the next morning !! It was like a miracle… I was a bit bloated but, apart from that, over the next 14 days I was improving… I then found out that I should have mixed carrot juice (equal parts) with the cabbage juice as it is too drastic on its own.. So the 3rd week, I started drinking 8oz of the mixture, 4 times a day.. Sometime during this third week, I noticed I no longer had any pain.. I was starting to become ‘normal’ when I went to the toilet and I was only going maybe 3 or 4 times a day… I have now completed this 3rd week so I am going to reduce the amount to 3 times a day and see how it goes, but I am able to go out… do things and live an almost normal life.
Let’s get juicing!
I am no medical professional and cannot give you medical advice. But if you suffer from peptic ulcers consider getting a juicer and making yourself some cabbage juice. According to mainstream medical opinion it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it might just work out for you. If you suffer from colitis, do your own research first and discuss it with your doctor.
In preparation of this blog post I ran a few heads of cabbage through my Omega juicer and drank close to a quart in one sitting. My insights:
The juice gave me no negative side effects such as bloating. But I do not suffer from ulcers, which might make a difference.
Juice from green cabbage tastes better than juice from red cabbage, because it is sweeter. In fact, I’d say that green cabbage juice tastes like coleslaw minus the mayonnaise and the sugar. I found the taste of the juice pleasant, but if you’re not used to vegetables or if your diet contains a lot of added sugar, you might not share that sentiment.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to drink the juice shortly after you pressed it. If you need to store your juice for a while, investigate storage methods that minimize loss of nutrients.
And lastly, Cheney says that the juice must be raw and that heat destroys its healing capacity.[vii]
[iii] Cheney, Garnett, Samuel H. Waxler, and Ivan J. Miller. “Vitamin U Therapy of Peptic Ulcer—Experience at San Quentin Prison.” California Medicine 84.1 (1956): 39. See abstract and full article here.
[iv] Shaw, Ashley Lynn. The Efficacy of DL-Methionine Methylsulfonium Chloride on Performance Characteristics and Intestinal Tract Integrity in Broilers. Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science at Auburn University. See thesis here.
[v] Ichikawa, Takafumi, Yuko Ito, Yoichi Saegusa, Tomohisa Iwai, Yukinobu Goso, Tomoaki Ikezawa, and Kazuhiko Ishihara. “Effects of Combination Treatment with Famotidine and Methylmethionine Sulfonium Chloride on the Mucus Barrier of Rat Gastric Mucosa.” Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. See abstract here.
[vi] Kim, Won-Serk, You Jin Yang, Hyung Geun Min, Min Gyu Song, Ji-Seon Lee, Keung-Young Park, Jin-Ju Kim, Jong-Hyuk Sung, Jun-Seok Choi, and Hyuk-Jin Cha. “Accelerated Wound Healing by S-Methylmethionine Sulfonium: Evidence of Dermal Fibroblast Activation via the ERK1/2 Pathway.” Pharmacology 85, no. 2 (2009): 68-76. Find abstract here.