Reflux oesophagitis occurs when the gullet becomes inflamed as a result of stomach acid being pushed upwards towards the throat (acid reflux). A faulty muscle at the lower end of the gullet usually causes this. Around one in three people are thought to suffer from the condition, and if prolonged and recurrent, it can lead to oesophageal cancer.
The researchers experimentally induced reflux oesophagitis in 60 rats and subsequently examined tissue samples for signs of ulceration and/or healing. Fifteen rats were given no treatment. The rest were either treated with a commonly prescribed acid suppressant drug or 30 mg or 100 mg/kg of the antioxidant extract DA-9601 derived from the wormwood herb (Artemisia asiatica). This was done before and after oesophagitis had been induced.
The findings showed extensive oxidative damage to the gullet linings of the 15 rats given no treatment at all, with ulceration in 80 per cent of them. Among the 15 given the higher antioxidant dose, ulceration was present in only one in five. Ulceration was evident in almost two thirds of the 15 rats treated with the acid suppressant.
Antioxidant treatment seemed to produce more scattered and less severe blistering, lower levels of inflammation, and much more extensive evidence of healing than no treatment or medication with acid suppressant. Higher levels of chemicals that protect cells from damage and lower levels of harmful chemicals produced by free radicals were also seen among the groups treated with DA-9601, particularly in the group given the higher dose.
The authors conclude that oxygen free radical damage is a major cause of reflux oesophagitis, and that antioxidants should be considered alongside acid suppressants as primary treatment.
[Oxidative stress is more important than acid in the pathogenesis of reflux oesophagitis in rats 2001; 49: 364-71]