How skipping meals does not directly cause gastritis
People believe skipping meals cause gastritis, an inflammation of the digestive tract. This research piece shows the relationship between meal patterns and gastritis.
If you often experience abdominal pain accompanied by symptoms like indigestion, nausea, bloating, vomiting blood, or a feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen, especially after eating, you may have gastritis.
Gastritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the stomach lining. It can be caused by any factor that weakens the protective layer of the stomach lining. However, medications, dietary modifications, and other treatments can help.
Gastritis can occur without warning, creating apparent symptoms that may go away without therapy. Chronic gastritis, on the other hand, during its onset, might go unnoticed. It can potentially lead to issues over time if not treated.
One common cause of gastritis worldwide is Helicobacter pylori bacteria. These bacteria attack the stomach's protective lining by creating an enzyme called urease. The enzyme produced by these bacteria lowers the acidity of your stomach juices (neutralizes them).
While different studies have been conducted to find out the role of Helicobacter pylori in the development of gastritis, not many studies have been conducted to find the link between meal patterns and gastritis.
This article will use available literature to discuss gastritis, its causes, and whether skipping meals can cause it. It will also discuss what happens to the body when you skip meals and the differences between gastritis and stomach ulcer.
First, what is gastritis?
Meaning of Gastritis
Gastritis is a term for a group of conditions with one thing in common: inflammation of the stomach lining.
Gastritis is most commonly caused by infection with the same bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers - Helicobacter pylori or by using certain pain relievers.
Sources indicate that more than 50% of the world's population has gastritis to some degree. Infection by Helicobacter pylori is a significant public health concern because it has been linked to problems like stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Gastritis can appear suddenly (acute gastritis) or gradually over time (chronic gastritis). However, they are usually not severe and often improve fast with the right treatment.
There are more cases of gastritis in developing countries than in developed countries. About 50.8% of the population in developing countries suffer from gastritis while the figure reduces to 34.7% of the population in developed countries, according to a recent 2021 study.
Older adults also have a higher risk of developing gastritis because they have a higher prevalence of H. pylori bacteria which causes changes in their gastric mucosa.
Causes of Gastritis
A bacteria called Helicobacter pylori causes gastritis - Photo source: Edward Jenner on Pexels
The main culprit that causes gastritis is the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Infection by this bacteria can cause inflammation and erosion of the mucosal membrane that lines the stomach wall. H. pylori bacteria can also be transmitted from one person to another.
Another common cause of gastritis is the excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Some dietary and lifestyle habits that can cause gastritis or increase the risk of developing the condition include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Consumption of spicy foods
- Smoking cigarettes
Aside from dietary and lifestyle habits, certain health conditions can also cause gastritis. Health conditions that can cause gastritis include:
- Autoimmune diseases: These occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's healthy cells. In the case of gastritis, the body can attack the cells of the lining covering the stomach.
- Chronic biliary reflux: It occurs when bile in your intestine flows backward, thereby accumulating in your stomach and food pipe (esophagus). Bile is a fluid that aids digestion.
Other health conditions that can be linked to gastritis include:
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Significant or major surgery
- Burns or traumatic injury
The Different Types Of Gastritis
Gastritis is classified into two types: erosive and non-erosive.
- The most common and dangerous type is erosive gastritis. The stomach lining is inflamed in erosive gastritis, and the stomach's protective lining begins to peel off over time. Habits and lifestyle choices like smoking, stress, and consumption of alcohol are strongly linked to erosive gastritis.
- Non-erosive gastritis, which is much less common, does not erode the stomach but leaves it inflamed. Gastritis is frequently chronic, but it can also be acute, with symptoms appearing unexpectedly.
The link between skipping meals and gastritis explained
Just like there's a widespread belief that there is a link between skipping meals and stomach ulcers, many people believe that skipping meals can cause gastritis. But, this may not be entirely true.
Skipping meals don't directly cause gastritis but can increase its risk or worsen it.
Skipping meals may not cause gastritis but can worsen its symptoms
There are sparse studies on the link between meal patterns and gastritis. However, an older 2012 study found that people who deviated from their regular meal timing by 2 hours or more had a higher risk of H. Pylori infection and gastritis.
The study also hypothesized that people with irregular meal patterns (e.g., people who skipped eating at their normal meal hours) had a higher risk of developing gastritis because the stomach continuously secretes juice during the usual meal time in readiness for food.
But, if food is not ingested at such points, the gastric acid secretion can cause the stomach wall to be susceptible to H. Pylori infection and gastritis. This may also increase the risk of other conditions and symptoms such as acid reflux, heartburn, and stomach ulcer.
Additionally, another study indicated that food patterns and stress may influence gastritis while a 2016 study found that skipping meals significantly worsened symptoms in people already diagnosed with gastritis.
What Happens When You Skip Meals Occasionally?
Skipping meals can affect both the physiological and physical functions of the body. Below are some ways skipping meals may affect you.
Makes you tired and sluggish
Skipping meals and not eating enough during the day can make your head spin. You may experience dizziness, fatigue, and even fainting spells.
When we don't feed our brains, the body may signal that it's time to shut things down causing your body to produce cortisol. Cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," is released to help regulate that drop in blood sugar, but it also causes a stress response in the body. This can make you feel anxious or depressed, moody, irritable, and frazzled.
Makes you develop strong food cravings
Ignoring your hunger can lead to severe cravings, particularly for simple carbs and sugar. These will only provide quick, short bursts of energy, which your body will quickly grab.
Skipping meals can make you lose control over your next meal
There are research-backed consequences of skipping meals. Such consequences include persistent, intrusive food thoughts and a loss of control over your next meal or snack—especially when it comes to these refined carbohydrate sources.
This means that skipping meals or ignoring your hunger cues to eat within a specific window to lose weight may backfire and lead to binge eating.
Slows down your metabolism
Most people skip meals as a weight-loss strategy. However, sometimes, this can give results that are opposite of what you wish to achieve. When you skip meals, your body does not function as well as it should - it causes your metabolism to slow down.
Weight loss becomes even more challenging because metabolism tends to be faster when you eat consistently (and exercise regularly, too).
Nutritional deficiencies may occur
Regularly skipping meals implies that you are eating less than you should or less than your body requires. This has an effect on your body and reduces your overall nutrient intake, leaving you vulnerable to a variety of nutritional deficiencies.
Skipping meals can also increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Symptoms Of Gastritis
Gastritis can cause symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea
Many people with gastritis have no symptoms. However, when symptoms occur, the following are the most common:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Sharp or burning pain in the upper abdomen
In severe cases of gastritis, symptoms may also include:
- Vomiting blood
- Blood in the stool
Difference Between Gastritis And Stomach Ulcer
Gastritis and stomach ulcers are diseases of the small intestine and stomach. Both conditions share some similar symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, weight loss, and loss of appetite. However, gastritis is still different from stomach ulcers.
Gastritis is characterized by inflammation of the stomach wall while stomach ulcers present with an erosion of the stomach mucosa. Ulcers cause severe, localized pain and increase the risk of bleeding, cancer, and stomach perforation.
When the stomach lining is irritated and inflamed as in gastritis, they become swollen and red. This may cause shallow sores to develop on the stomach wall. But in the case of stomach ulcers, erosion of the stomach walls causes deeper, open sores to form in the stomach lining.
When To See a Doctor About Gastritis Concerns
Gastritis is often not fatal but if left untreated it can cause serious complications like perforation of the stomach, anemia, bleeding in the stomach, precancerous lesions, and cancers.
If you experience symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, nausea, black sticky stools, and indigestion, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor may prescribe for you medications like antacids, probiotics, and acid-reducing medications.
While skipping meals may not directly cause gastritis, it can increase your risk of developing it and can worsen existing symptoms. Try to eat healthy whole meals and maintain good hygiene habits to help reduce the risk of H. pylori infection. Additionally, you should avoid misuse of NSAIDs which is one of the causes of gastritis.