Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection occurs when H. pylori bacteria infect your stomach. H. pylori infection is a common cause of peptic ulcers and may be present in more than half the world's population.
Do you suffer from heartburn, reflux or burping? Do you rely most days on a medicine to help settle your stomach? Is your stomach like this? Do you experience flatus, loose bowel motions, indigestion and fatigue regularly? Today I’m going to talk about a very annoying little bug called Helicobacter pylori and offer you more insight and further include natural solutions to tackle this problem.
I first wrote reported about helicobacter in the early 1990s and it’s time I refreshed this content.
We recognise Helicobacter pylori as the most prevalent bacteria to infect the human population in the entire world. You may have never heard of helicobacter pylori, and if you do, don’t despair, you are not alone, so let’s discuss these questions and more in this in-depth look into a condition that affects billions of people worldwide daily.
In 1982, Dr. Barry Marshall identified a new bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (HP) as an infectious agent responsible for peptic ulcer disease. It transformed medicine’s understanding of the microbiology and disease of the human stomach.
A thick layer of mucus that covers the stomach lining protects your stomach from its own gastric juice. HP takes advantage of this protection by living in the mucus lining. Once this clever little bug is safe in this mucus, it can fight the stomach acid that reaches it with an enzyme it possesses called urease. There is an abundant supply of urea in the stomach (from saliva and gastric juices) that is converted by urease into bicarbonate and ammonia, both strong (alkaline) bases.
This creates a cloud of acid-neutralising chemicals around the H. pylori, shielding it from the acid in the stomach. The symptoms produced by this action include heartburn, reflux and burping that many people with helicobacter complain of.
Contributing to defending HP is the fact that the body’s natural defences cannot reach these bugs in this mucus lining of the stomach. The immune system will respond to an HP infection by sending Killer T-cells (white blood cells), and other infection-fighting agents. But, these potential H. pylori eradicators cannot reach the infection, because they cannot get through stomach lining.
They do not go away, the immune response just grows and grows. White cells die and spill their destructive compounds onto cells lining the stomach. They send more nutrients to reinforce the white cells, and the H. pylori can feed on this. Within a few days, gastritis and a peptic ulcer potentially result in your tummy.
And of course, the person who suffers is often unaware, takes an antacid or an acid-blocking drug long term, and continues to eat and drink foods which only aggravate the healing response.
The 2005 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine made the remarkable and unexpected discovery that inflammation in the tummy (gastritis) as well as ulceration of the stomach or duodenum (peptic ulcer disease) results from a stomach infection caused by the microorganism helicobacter pylori.
Robin Warren (b.1937), a pathologist from Perth, Australia, observed small curved bacteria colonising the lower part of the stomach (the antrum) in approximately 50% of biopsies from patients.
Dr. Marshall made the crucial observation that signs of inflammation were always present in the gastric mucosa when these small curved shaped bacteria were present. Barry Marshall (b.1951) became interested in Warren’s findings and together they started a study of biopsies from 100 patients.
After several attempts, Marshall cultivated an unknown bacterial species (later called Helicobacter pylori) from several of these biopsies. Collectively, they found the organism was present in virtually all patients with gastric inflammation, duodenal ulcer or gastric ulcer. Based on these results, they proposed that Helicobacter pylori is involved in the cause of this disease.
Sufferers with peptic ulcers relapsed, since bacteria and chronic irritation of the stomach remained even after inhibiting gastric acid production by drugs. In treatment studies, Marshall and Warren and others showed with bacteria eradication from the tummy, they could cure patients from their peptic ulcer disease.
Thanks to the pioneering Nobel Prize of 2005 winning discovery by Marshall and Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, often disabling condition, but a disease that a short regimen of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors can cure. That’s the medical narrative, but in reality not every antibiotic prescription ends up in complete healing, and recovery based on antibiotics never turns out to be as long lasting as claimed, that is my clinical experience spanning more than 30 years.
The major route of transmission of H. pylori is oral. Did you wash your hands? Many researchers believe fecal matter transmits HP orally through the ingestion of tainted food or water.
The scientists think humans spread helicobacter pylori infection rapidly from one person to another due to the ease with which helicobacter bacteria can travel from the tummy back to the mouth.
This may occur through reflux or belching, typical symptoms of gastritis, otherwise known as stomach inflammation. Helicobacter pylori can certainly be amongst household members and readily be transmitted by sharing food, beverages, cups, or utensils.
Before retiring from active clinical practice, it was routine for me to see several members of the same household who were affected by helicobacter pylori, including children and elderly.
To confirm Helicobacter pylori causes gastritis and peptic ulceration, Dr. Marshall swallowed cultures of the bacteria and contracted gastritis (an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the tummy). He then underwent endoscopy, an internal examination of the stomach, and provided biopsies containing the bug after laboratory analysis.
Changing medical belief and practise takes time. For nearly 100 years, scientists and doctors thought that lots of stress, spicy foods, and copious alcohol were the primary cause of ulcers. Treatment involved bed rest and a bland diet. Later, researchers added stomach acid to the list of causes and began treating ulcers with antacids when they became fashionable.
Unfortunately, nobody believed him. In fact, he experienced ridicule and disdain when he first proposed the idea that bacteria lived in the hostile environment of the stomach!
Before 1982, the accepted medical belief was “no acid, no ulcer”, and that stomach ulcers only occurred when excess acid damaged the stomach wall and that they should aim treatment in reducing or neutralising the “bad acid”
There are still a number of drug promotions concerning this acid reflux problem. Unfortunately, many patients today still appear to have “too much stomach acid”, and are being treated by their doctor with antacids or stomach-acid blockers as front-line therapy, when in my clinical experience the opposite applies, they don’t have enough or have an infection which needs sorting.
Who can remember television commercials promoting antacids that conveniently appeared after supper, the time when your tummy is most likely to become responsive to food and dessert?
A healthy person’s gastric juice comprises digestive enzymes and concentrated hydrochloric acid, which can readily digest food or kill microorganisms. Low levels of stomach acid increase the chance of an organism’s survival. It used to be thought that the stomach contained no bacteria and was sterile, and it took an Australian medical doctor to prove the world’s experts wrong.
It is crazy to treat the acid problem perpetually, without enquiring into why this burping, reflux and upper abdominal discomfort is occurring. Albert Szent Györgyi, (1937 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine) said that: “Discovery comprises seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”
Science has finally proven that more than 90 percent of peptic ulcer disease and gastritis, conditions that affect millions worldwide, is the result of a bacterial infection, and not too much stomach acid.
” Discovery comprises seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Albert Szent Györgyi
HP infection remains a tremendous problem, is common and infecting more than a billion people worldwide. Research from 2017 has confirmed that half the world’s population is likely infected with helicobacter pylori.
Studies show half of the American population older than age 60 might be infected with H. pylori and the economic effect of ulcer disease in the US (as measured back in a study of 1989 data) showed the illness cost then around $6 billion per year. ($2.66 billion for hospitalisation, not including doctor’s fees), outpatient care ($1.62 billion), and loss in work productivity ($1.37 billion).
One in five Australians and New Zealanders has Helicobacter pylori. A study conducted in 2019 in Western Australia acknowledged that the first-line treatment fails significantly more often for helicobacter pylori infection in women than in men. But men presenting to their doctors with symptoms significantly earlier than women and their symptoms tend to be worse.
Dr. Barry Marshall is adamant that infection can persist for many years, leading to ulcer disease in 10% to 15% of those infected. Doctors diagnose helicobacter pylori in over 80% of patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers. You can imagine what this common complaint is costing government departments, in terms of drugs, doctor’s visits, and lost productivity at work.
Data that emerged from many studies conducted by both Dr. Marshall and others has shown helicobacter a common bacterial agent that has affected half of the world’s population.
The infection manifests in various ways, depending on the individual. In certain people, helicobacter produces more acid in the stomach, and ulcers may result. In other cases, stomach acid suppression or complete lack (achlorhydria) may result, and these people may be at a greater risk of gastric cancer.
· Nausea, or a low-grade sense of being queasy. Could be vomiting.
· The avoidance of chilli, garlic or a specific food which upsets digestion
· Bloating worse after meals. Appearing worse after meals or specific foods.
· Persisting abdominal pain, intestinal cramps.
· Peptic or duodenal ulcers (over 90% of cases are positive for helicobacter)
· Burping, this can be bad. The person may develop a reputation.
· Heartburn, and reliant on Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Gavascon, Tums, etc.
· Diarrhoea or constipation after several years of infection.
· Disturbed sleep, waking up with a hollow feeling or heartburn.
· Symptoms worse at night, or worse when sleeping.
· Vitamin B12 deficiency. Get a blood test you may be deficient.
· Altered appetite. Sometimes you may want to eat, other times you don’t.
· Chronic cases develop nutritional deficiencies leading many health problems.
· They implicate Helicobacter pylori in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
· Migraine headaches (40% of people living with migraine test positive)
· Acne rosacea. Studies show link between H. pylori and acne rosacea.
After having dealt with both acute and chronic cases of helicobacter pylori in my clinic for some time I noticed that patients who were chronic had less symptoms than those who were in the acute phase. It became evident that chronic helicobacter pylori patients had an increased tendency towards fatigue, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression.
According to Medical Microbiology 4th Edition Chapter 23Campylobacter and Helicobacter: “Helicobacter pylori is associated with chronic superficial gastritis (stomach inflammation) and plays a role in the pathogenesis of peptic ulcer disease. Increasing evidence indicates that H pylori infection is important in causing gastric carcinoma and lymphoma. Acute infection may cause vomiting and upper gastrointestinal pain; hypochlorhydria and intense gastritis develop. Chronic infection usually is asymptomatic.”
Is it any wonder how an ailing stomach is supposed to do its job, i.e., digesting and absorbing foods when a bacterial infection is causing such dysfunction? Your doctor may originally have prescribed a pharmaceutical drug such as Pepto Bismol, Tums, Gavascon or Mylanta for your stomach to block acid production.
How is your stomach supposed to act? After working with patients for many years, the pattern became perfectly evident to me. The patient was originally placed on an acid blocking drug, sometimes in combination with an antibiotic for seven to ten days.
The person began to decline after only receiving temporary improvement, a common scenario that would be played out over and again, a person reading this may think, that’s me!
The patient ultimately will go back to their doctor and complain that symptoms stay unchanged. What follows then are a series of endless doctor’s visits, repeated drug prescriptions, medical specialist visits and expensive tests in the years ahead.
I used to see one or two patients each week in the clinic with helicobacter pylori. When I wrote an article in our local newspaper many years ago (before Google) about helicobacter pylori, I received over ten phone calls from people relying on acid blocking drugs for symptomatic relief.
It is crucial to get an accurate diagnosis before trying to find a remedy or solution for your heartburn, reflux, or other digestive problem caused by helicobacter pylori. Many stomach or digestive diseases and conditions share common symptoms: if you treat yourself for the wrong illness or a specific symptom of a complex disease, you may delay legitimate treatment of a serious underlying problem, even stomach cancer.
The greatest danger in self-treatment may be self-diagnosis. Always work with your health-care professional, preferably one with experience in gastrointestinal disorders. I have always had a significant concern about the extensive use of antibiotic drugs required to treat HP infected individuals.
The conventional medical clearing of HP from the stomach requires therapy from 10 to 14 days with multiple drugs. My concern is that prolonged or recurrent antibiotic treatment alters the normal microbial population of the entire gastrointestinal tract, eliminating many valuable and beneficial bacteria as well as helicobacter pylori, allowing the sufferer to develop a gut environment which may contain potential pathogens like Candida albicans, proteus, or other undesirables such as salmonella.
You get rid of one problem, only to create yet another problem! What is the point?
Dr. Barry Marshall did not recommend only one medication to eradicate H pylori. The most conventional treatment is a 2-week course of treatment called triple therapy. It involves taking two different antibiotics to kill the bacteria and either an acid suppressor or stomach-lining shielding drug.
Two-week triple therapy reduces ulcer symptoms, kills the bacteria, and prevents ulcer recurrence in many patients, but the recurrence can be as high as 75%. Complete eradication is difficult. Our clinic has seen many patients over several years who were treated for helicobacter pylori with various combinations of antibiotics and antacids. Most of these treatments at most gave only temporary relief, with sufferers being advised to stay on acid blocking drugs to manage symptoms for life.
I recommend drug treatment for the resistant cases, and have sent the patients to a medical doctor for triple therapy, then followed-up with a natural treatment for 6 weeks. I found that patients find triple therapy complicated because it involves taking 3 kinds of drugs and 20 tablets at various times of the day.
In addition, compliance can become low because antibiotics and bismuth drugs used in triple therapy may cause debilitating side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dark stools, metallic taste in the mouth, dizziness, headache, and yeast infections, particularly in women.
The diagnosis of H. pylori infection has traditionally involved endoscopy with biopsies of the stomach’s mucosa. There are three ways to test for helicobacter now: blood, stool and the breath test. Negative test results are not necessarily a sign you are cured. You could still have this bug.
If you consider yourself significantly better after a helicobacter pylori specific treatment, whether pharmaceutical or natural, a high probability exists you have HP regardless of what the test results say.
The Carbon-Urea Breath Test method of diagnosis relies on the Urea reaction being present, as mentioned earlier. This is a sound test – 90 – 95% successful in picking up the HP bug.
Conventional Blood Tests measuring HP antibody levels exist, but these tests have sub-optimal sensitivity and specificity (85% and 79%).
Helicobacter Pylori Stool Tests for Antibodies Many factors can affect the outcome of this test, stay with breath testing. Many experts say that the fecal antigen test is bulletproof, but in my experience, I have seen many “false negatives” with testing. The results come back OK, but the patient responds dramatically after HP treatment.
It is a hard question to answer, because everybody recovers at their own rate depending on factors such as their diet, lifestyle and what they are doing to treat their helicobacter pylori infection.
No definite indications exist for specific treatment of every individual case of HP associated gastritis. Recurrence rates are high, so persist with treatment until you get significantly better, and even when better, support treatment for two more months (lower grade treatment) to be sure. I recommend helicobacter pylori treatment in blocks of 6 weeks, then waiting 2 -3 weeks, then another 6-week block period of treatment. This protocol has proven itself over more than twenty years to have been effective in my clinic.
Recovery from chronic helicobacter pylori infection can take many years in chronic cases. A recent study conducted in 2002 highlighted that acute inflammation disappeared soon after H pylori treatment. Chronic inflammation responded at a slower pace but was still present, although significantly lower, by 12 years.
When considering optimal treatment time for helicobacter pylori, take the dietary supplements with meals, while others are taken between meals, or away from foods and snacks. I designed a helicobacter pylori specific protocol to drive the kill treatment home, and let treatment have access to the helicobacter bacteria in the gut with, as well as away from meals or snacks. This allows eradication treatment to work in an environment contain more or less gastric juices and seems very successful. Here are a few more tips.
My favourite H.Pylori treatment regime for many years? Gum mastica between meals, and with meals a preparation of Bismuth, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, grapefruit seed extract and goldenseal.
I often recommend aloe vera, activated charcoal and colloidal silver as well. Do you get that annoying heartburn and want to find a cause and ultimately a cure? Consult your naturopath or nutritional-friendly doctor who can examine your case and who will treat the cause, not the symptom. They should recommend a course of treatment and a specific diet designed for the individual, with promising results for many patients.
And what a relief, to be free of heartburn, bloating and that “awful feeling in the tummy” again.
Various Studies and References