Helicobacter Pylori is a common bacterial infection that attacks the lining of the stomach, causing ulcers, bloating, abdominal pain, and lack of appetite. Many people have no idea they have it. This spiral-shaped bacterium is thought to infect up to half the world’s population. Although, most cases of the infection can be eradicated with treatment, resulting in no long-term effects, it can potentially lead to more serious conditions, such as gastritis, anemia, and obstruction of the stomach. An H. Pylori bacterial infection can also increase a person’s risk for stomach cancer.
H. Pylori Risk Factors
H. Pylori is a gram-negative bacterium that is contagious. It can be spread via saliva, which means infection could be as simple as using the same spoon as a family member who is infected. It can also be spread through the oral-fecal route. This is why it’s critical to treat all members of a family. If one person is host to the infection, there is a high likelihood that other members may have been infected, as well.
Contaminated food and water are another avenue of transmission. Many people get the infection during childhood and remain asymptomatic. People, particularly children, living in areas with poor sanitation, lack of hygiene, and inadequate living conditions are at increased risk of becoming infected. Interestingly, some ethnicities are more susceptible to infection, including Hispanics and African Americans.
H. Pylori can survive in the stomach for years without symptoms manifesting. It can attack the stomach lining and upper intestine, causing ulcers, and chronic gastritis, and in some cases stomach cancer.
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What Are The Symptoms Of An H. Pylori Bacterial Infection?
Here is a list of symptoms associated with an H. Pylori bacterial infection. Keep in mind, many people don’t have symptoms:
- Sense of fullness
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloating and diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Peptic ulcers
Anemia is another symptom of H. Pylori. This is due to the reduction of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. It’s paramount the stomach be extremely acidic in order to break down the proteins that liberate iron.
If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your doctor or functional health practitioner. They can provide the testing essential for diagnosis. Chronic and persistent abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, bloody stools and vomiting are all red flags that should never be ignored.
H. Pylori And Reduced Stomach Acid
H. Pylori reduces stomach acid by raising the pH of the stomach, via an enzyme called urease, to ensure its survival. Urease converts urea from the stomach into ammonia and bicarbonate, both of which neutralize stomach acid. This reaction is what enables diagnosis using a breath test. Low stomach acid leads to all sorts of problems, including inhibited digestion, a possible B12 deficiency, anemia, food sensitivities, and leaky gut, which is a foundational component of many chronic diseases.
The immune system sends out soldiers in response to pathogenic invasion. However, immune molecules such as T cells and white blood cells, can’t attack a bacterial infection if it can’t reach it. This is because H. Pylori can become enmeshed deep within the lining of the stomach, which is another powerful defense mechanism it uses to prevent detection and elimination. Antibiotic resistance also plays a part in the conundrum of eradicating H. Pylori. That’s why at least two antibiotics are used during treatment. More on that below.
How Is It Diagnosed?
The two most common laboratory tests for H. Pylori are urea breath testing and stool antigen testing. Blood tests that measure antibodies and endoscopic biopsies are also used.
I like breath testing because it’s easy, non-invasive, and accurate. H. Pylori breaks down urea into carbon dioxide, which is absorbed in the stomach, and can be detected in the breath. One great advantage of this test is that it can be easily administered to children.
Stool testing is highly accurate for diagnosing H. Pylori. It’s more expensive than breath testing, but can identify the bacterium using a stool sample. Blood testing is useful in detecting antibodies, but isn’t great for diagnosing the infection, and is not suggested for confirming whether the infection is gone. This is because antibodies can persist long after eradication.
Endoscopy is another reliable test for diagnosing H. Pylori. Although it’s more invasive, it can also provide relevant information in regard to ulcers and the severity of gastritis. A tube, or endoscope, is inserted into the mouth to view the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum, or upper part of the small intestine. Small tissue samples, or biopsies, are taken of the stomach lining during the procedure. A positive diagnosis is given if one of these samples reacts with urea.
Can H. Pylori Cause Cancer?
Why do some people get an H. Pylori bacterial infection and others don’t? Like most disease states, the health of the immune system, along with robust gut health, play an enormous role in whether one gets sick or not. Even with strong immunity, H. Pylori is a tough bacteria to eradicate. This is because it nestles deep within the mucosal lining of the stomach to prevent detection. The bacterium also form biofilms to further protect itself. Biofilms are self-producing slimy colonies of mucus and minerals that serve as an encasement for pathogens.
There are two types of gastric cancer or cancer of the stomach. The first type is cancer of the upper stomach, called gastric cardia cancer. The second type of stomach cancer is called non-cardia gastric cancer, and involves pathology of other areas in the stomach.
Stomach cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths worldwide, and is more prevalent in developing countries, such as South America and Asia. H. Pylori infections may play a role in the development of stomach cancer, and specifically non-cardia gastric cancer.
Atopic gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach, is associated with H. Pylori. It occurs in the pyloric antrum, the most distal portion of the stomach. When the protective lining of the stomach is degraded by infection, digestive juices can irritate sensitive tissues and cause ulcers.
Inflammation can be the result of the infection itself or can be caused by Vac-A, a cytotoxin produced by the bacterium. Atopic gastritis is a risk factor in the development of gastric carcinoma, whereas eliminating the infection decreases risk.
Can H. Pylori Be Cured?
H. Pylori is treated using proton pump inhibitors to lower stomach acid, along with two different antibiotics. Amoxicillin, Metraziazoanole, and Clarithromycin are three of the antibiotics commonly used as part of the triple therapy to treat H. Pylori. Using more than one antibiotic is based on findings that a single antibiotic doesn’t bring about the desired results. In my functional nutrition practice, I use a combination of Matula tea, mastic gum, S. Boullardi, Biocidin, DGL, and Manuka honey to eradicate H. Pylori.
Matula tea has a great success rate in treating H. Pylori. It fact, it’s so successful that the company who sells it offers a 100% guarantee in the event that it doesn’t do the trick. Once the infection is gone, it’s imperative to optimize stomach acid in order to destroy bacterial overgrowth before it can burrow into the stomach lining. Keep in mind, there’s always the possibility of becoming reinfected so always retest to make sure the infection is gone.
Also, optimize immune function by living a healthy lifestyle, which will always be your best defense against pathogenic invaders. Proper hand-washing is also vital in reducing risk. Other recommendations include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, moderating your intake of caffeine, managing stress, and using NSAIDs judiciously. PPIs, or proton pump inhibitors, should not be used for more than a couple of weeks since they reduce stomach acid, which could be a precursor to future infection.
[Read More: Does Manuka Honey Kill MRSA?]
Personal Life Experience
Watch one woman’s journey with H. Pylori and stomach cancer. Unfortunately, she has since passed away.
The over arching message is to GET TESTED if you have any of the symptoms of H. Pylori. You don’t want to mess around with it, because it may increase your chances of contracting cancer of the stomach.
H. Pylori is a bacterial infection many people are unaware they have. Some may have been infected for years, even from childhood. Breath and stool testing are used to diagnose the condition. Optimizing immune function and stomach acid is your best defense against H. Pylori. Detection is essential because this common infection can wreak havoc on your digestive system, and in some cases lead to stomach cancer.
Have you or someone you know had an H. Pylori bacterial infection? Let me know in the comments:)
(1) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Helicobacter Pylori
(2) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori Infection
(3) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Helicobacter pylori infection: old and new
(4) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Beyond the stomach: An updated view of Helicobacter pylori pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment
(5) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Helicobacter Pylori Infection – When to Eradicate, How to Diagnose and Treat
(6) US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Current understanding and management of Helicobacter pylori infection: an updated appraisal
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice.