Helicobacter pylori, also referred to as H. pylori is a type of bacterial infection recognized as the leading cause of stomach and duodenal ulcers. If left untreated, it can also lead to chronic gastritis and stomach cancers.
Despite understanding the harmful effects of H. pylori infection, treatment is a bit tricky. By reviewing H. pylori in depth, you’ll come to understand why conventional treatment options are not always the best option. Learn the top 5 natural therapies to help fight H. pylori infection.
What is H. pylori?
H. pylori is a gram-negative bacteria that was officially discovered in 1982 by Warren and Marshall. Associated medical issues with H. pylori were discovered over the next decade. Not only is H. pylori the leading cause of stomach and duodenal ulcers, but it is also classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a group I human carcinogen for gastric adenocarcinoma (stomach cancer).
Despite knowing these harmful effects, researchers also discovered that this bacteria has infected humans for over 58,000 years. Humans and H. pylori strains coevolved over that time frame to live in harmony.
In that case, is the presence of H. pylori actually harmful?
Do we need to completely kill off this bacteria?
Read on to find out!
H. pylori strains are present in about 50% of the world’s population, with higher rates in developing countries. Location, age and socio-economic status are all factors impacting infection rates. The infection is usually contracted through fecal-contaminated food or water.
Only about 15% of people with H. pylori eventually develop ulcers or gastric cancer. In individuals that have stomach ulcers, 90% test positive for H. pylori infection. While this bacteria infects half of the world, it only causes detrimental effects in a relatively small portion of those people.
Most people who test positive for H. pylori infection do not express any outward symptoms. Different strains of H. pylori produce different symptoms and only some strains actually cause ulcers.
Some outwards signs of H. pylori include:
- Abdominal pain
- Hunger in the morning
- Halitosis (bad breath)
How do I know if I have an H. pylori infection?
H. pylori infection may be assessed through a number of testing methods:
- Blood work (H. pylori antibodies)
- Breath testing (rapid urease test)
- Stomach biopsy and culture
- Stool analysis and culture
If at least one of these tests are positive, then H. pylori infection is positive.
How is H. pylori infection usually treated?
After a positive diagnosis and the presence of stomach or duodenal ulcers, one typically starts conventional medical treatment. Killing off H. pylori involves using numerous antibiotics and sometimes acid-suppressing drugs.
Triple antibiotic therapy regimens may include:
- Omeprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin (OAC) for 10 days
- Bismuth subsalicylate, metronidazole, and tetracycline (BMT) for 14 days
- Lansoprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin (LAC), for either 10 days or 14 days
- Antidiarrheals (eg. Pepto-Bismol)
- Proton pump inhibitors (eg. Prilosec, Prevacid)
- H2-receptor blockers (eg. Zantac, Pepcid)
Why is it important to treat H. pylori?
This is where things get a bit tricky!
First, let me make the case why conventional H. pylori treatment may not be ideal-
By killing off H. pylori with potent antibiotics, other beneficial bacterial strains are simultaneously harmed. It is vital not to undergo unnecessary or excessive antibiotic treatment rounds to avoid developing antibiotic resistance. Over the decades, H. pylori has become progressively more challenging to treat due to this resistance.
Up to 50% of patients report side effects while taking H. pylori treatment, which may lead to stopping treatment early. These side effects are typically mild and include constipation, diarrhea, metallic taste in mouth, stomach cramps, etc. Also, up to 20% of patients are not cured of H. pylori after one round of treatment and must undergo additional antibiotic rounds.
Lastly, just because H. pylori infection is positive, does not mean that person will develop harmful consequences. Certain strains of H. pylori are protective and can even prevent the development of GERD, whereas others are associated with harmful consequences like gastritis, ulcers, and adenocarcinomas.
A meta-analysis including 12 studies found no increase in GERD in patients who were treated for H. pylori compared with those who were not. The same study also found a subset of people who also had stomach ulcers experience new onset of GERD after H. pylori treatment.
Now, allow me to make the case when conventional treatment should be considered-
When H. pylori is eradicated through antibiotic treatment, patients experience better remission of their stomach and duodenal ulcers. Using antibiotic therapy to fight off the H. pylori infection works better and saves money over the long run compared to acid-suppressing medications for treating ulcers.
Keep in mind, stomach cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. H. pylori’s known association with this type of cancer makes it a no brainer to treat this infection in certain high-risk individuals!
To treat, or not to treat?
In the end, have the important conversation with your doctor to decide if treating H. pylori infection is right for you. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of standard treatment before moving forward with a plan. In the meantime, consider moving forward with my list of safe, natural therapies that help to fight off and protect against H. pylori!
Top 5 Natural Therapies to Fight H. pylori:
- Probiotics (Lactobacillus GG)
- A meta-analysis showed that probiotics help improve the eradication of H. pylori in addition to reducing the side effects of conventional antibiotic therapies. Specifically, go for the Lactobacillus probiotics like those found in Culturelle.
- Use antimicrobial herbs and spices
- Cook using oregano, chilli powder, garlic, cloves, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. These herbs and spices have multiple mechanisms to protect the stomach from infection and kill off harmful pathogens like H. pylori.
- Eat cruciferous veggies
- Cruciferous vegetables like cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli contain a plant-chemical called sulforaphane. This chemical inhibits H. pylori growth and improves gastritis.
- Drink tea (ginseng and green tea)
- Korean red ginseng contains ginsenosides, a plant-chemical that inhibits H. pylori growth and helps to prevent gastritis, ulcers and cancer. Also, green tea contains uronic acid that can block H. pylori from adhering to the stomach.
- Load up on vitamin C (supplements and/or food)
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help fight off the damage H. pylori infections may produce. Additionally, vitamin C rich-foods like peppers, oranges and kale may block H. pylori induced inflammation in cancer cells.
These are all pretty simple strategies you can implement right away! The good news is you’ll receive health benefits above and beyond protecting you from H. pylori and there are no adverse side effects. Don’t forget: talk to your doctor for more specific therapy guidelines. However, you may discuss these natural therapy options and incorporate them into your care plan.
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