Helicobacter pylori, H. pylori, has an interesting history in the medical world. For centuries, gastritis, heartburn, and stomach and duodenal ulcers were viewed as the product of stress, consuming too many acidic foods, and myriad other explanations, often treated with advice to avoid vinegar, tomato sauce, other acidic foods and drinking more milk. Then two Australian researchers, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, identified H. pylori in the base of human ulcers and published their observations in 1984, throwing the entire gastroenterology world topsy-turvy. It explained why people treated with only stomach acid-suppressing drugs frequently experienced relapse. Unfortunately, Marshall and Warren were ridiculed, ostracized from medical circles (even prompting Marshall to infect himself with H. pylori then have biopsy-proven gastritis develop). Subsequent work, however, proved them right, earning them a Nobel Prize for Medicine 20 years later in 2005. It is now clear that stomach and duodenal ulcers that are not caused by aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen are nearly all caused by H. pylori.
It has since become clear that H. pylori is oddly ubiquitous, essentially a parasite that can be found in about 15-35% of Americans (variation due to age, geography, and other factors), 50% of people around the world, with increasing likelihood of infection as we age. While originally identified as the cause for ulcers, then gastric cancer, it has become clear that H. pylori is responsible for a lot more, including alterations in bowel flora composition.
H. pylori: More than ulcers
Among the health conditions that have been associated with H. pylori are:
- Increased stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria)—Particularly in younger people in which H. pylori infects the antrum of the stomach (towards the duodenum). This explains why acid reflux, reflux esophagitis, and ulcers respond to stomach acid-blocking drugs, the H2 blockers and PPIs, and why 80-95% of people positive for H. pylori develop stomach or duodenal ulcers. In later phases, hypo- or achlorhydria, i.e., low or absent stomach acid, can develop, the situation that sets the stage for stomach cancer. (The World Health Organization has classified H. pylori as a class I carcinogen.) Note that acid-blocking drugs can also provide relief from acid reflux and esophagitis, conditions separate from H. pylori-based issues.
- Increased gastrin hormone levels—If hypo- or achlorhydria develop from H. pylori, increased gastrin hormone secretion in response to the lack of stomach acid can, over time, lead to stomach cancer, as gastrin provokes proliferation of stomach lining and acid-producing parietal cells. Stomach cancer is the third most common form of cancer worldwide with H. pylori as the leading cause.
- Skin rashes—A variety of skin rashes have been associated with H. pylori, but persistent psoriasis and rosacea are among the most common. In the case of rosacea, eradication of H. pylori is more effective in reversing the rash than modern rosacea treatments.
- Coronary disease—Especially virulent varieties of H. pylori (that express the CagA toxin) are more likely to be found in people who develop heart disease.
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)—An uncommon condition in which blood platelet counts dip dangerously low and bruising and hemorrhage can occur.
- Autoimmune conditions—The list of autoimmune conditions that accompany H pylori and recede with its eradication continue to grow and includes ITP, Sjogren’s syndrome, Henoch-Schlonlein purpura, some forms of autoimmune nephropathy (kidney disease) and peripheral neuropathies.
- A variety of lung diseases–Such as chronic bronchitis and other conditions.
- Parkinson’s disease—People with Parkinsonism have greater likelihood of having H. pylori with improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms with eradication.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)—may occur along with H. pylori in as many as 50% of people diagnosed with either.
- Fatty liver, insulin resistance, inflammation—This combination of abnormalities improves with H. pylori eradication.
- Deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron
- Other cancers that include lung, liver, biliary, and pancreatic.
In other words, H. pylori is not just about stomach and duodenal ulcers, but has wide implications for health across many health conditions.
Oddly, over the tens of thousands of years that this bacteria has coexisted with humans, it may also have developed the ability to provide beneficial effects such as modest reduction in potential for asthma, some forms of allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, and esophageal reflux and cancer. On balance, however, the benefits of eradication of the bacteria outweighs the modest potential for benefit.
H pylori is therefore more like E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, i.e., species that can inhabit the human body without harm but have potential to exert pathological effects when circumstances permit, and less like, say, a Lactobacillus species that provides benefits but poses almost no pathogenic potential. It is therefore helpful to 1) identify whether you harbor this organism, then 2) take steps to suppress or eradicate the organism.
To know whether H. pylori is a health issue for you, there is a simple fingerstick blood test for the antibody against this organism or stool antigen test that is the gold standard, both available direct-to-consumer without a doctor’s order. Should you identify the presence of this microbe, then a course of eradication can be pursued. We have been having success using agents such as Nigella sativa (a seed much like poppy seeds), mastic gum, and several other agents. One particularly effective combination is mastic gum 500 mg, oil of oregano 50 mg, PeptoBismol tablets, each three times per day.
For anyone who tests positive and is interested in other natural options for eradication, my therapeutic program is detailed in my Undoctored Inner Circle website.