Western medical doctors never suspected the bacteria H.pylori caused ulcers; instead they generally blamed certain foods and stress. Turns out this common but harmful bacteria is also linked to chronic gastritis, metabolic syndrome, certain types of lymphomas, stomach cancer, and possibly pancreatic cancer as well.
The bacterium, Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori), is found in about half of the world’s population, and can be transmitted via unclean food, fecal matter, tepid water, and even via saliva when kissing or sharing a glass. The really bad news is that antibiotics that used to manage H.pylori infections are becoming less effective every day.
To complicate matters, the attempted eradication of H.pylori with antibiotics may be causing other issues, according to Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, a leading expert in the application of Metabolomics and Nutritional Medicine in chronic and autoimmune diseases, as well as the author of How To Live 150 Years In Health.
“While H.pylori eradication helps improve the stomach ulcer healing rates, when eradicated it can at the same time worsen the symptoms of GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease),” says Dr. Tsoukalas. “That’s because H.pylori has the ability to regulate and decrease acidity in the stomach by releasing urease (an enzyme) and regulating gastrin levels.”
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History Of Stealth
Before the 1800s, ulcers were believed to be precursors to stomach cancer. Doctors actually had the right idea but the wrong villain. The real evil doer wasn’t discovered until 100 years later when a Polish clinical researcher named W. Jawroski noticed the presence of spiral-shaped microorganisms in the human stomach. But despite this breakthrough observation, no one connected these bacterial suspects with the scene of the crime.
It wasn’t until the early ’80s that two Australian scientists, Robin Warren and Barry J. Marshall, noticed that people with stomach ulcers all had the same type of bacteria, H.pylori, in their stomachs. At first, other scientists had their doubts, reasoning that nothing could survive the super acidity of human stomachs. But eventually researchers found additional evidence backing Warren and Marshall’s discovery. Now it’s universally accepted that most ulcers and chronic gastritis are caused by H.pylori.
Symptoms can include:
- Dull pain in the stomach
- Weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Burping or acid reflux
H.pylori was difficult for researchers to initially observe because of its ability to hide in the mucous layers of the stomach. This bacterium creates its chaos with a one two punch that’s part chemical and part appendage:
Punch 1: Enzyme production – H.pylori produces urease, an enzyme that protects it from gastric acid while eating away into the lining of the stomach and causing inflammation.
Punch 2: Flagella – H.pylori belongs to a group of bacteria known as biofilms that adhere together on a surface, which makes them much harder to kill than bacteria in their normal, disaggregated state. They adhere with flagella, whip-like appendages that allow H.pylori to move around in the mucosal lining of the stomach or stick to the epithelial lining. An H.pylori infection or colonization occurs when the bacterium gets comfortable with a certain location and begins to grow.
The Cancer Connection
About 75 percent of people who have H.pylori infections aren’t aware of it and never suffer symptoms. The other 25 percent experience much suffering. Sometimes that suffering manifests into full blown stomach cancer. People with an H.pylori infection have six-times greater risk of developing stomach cancer than uninfected people. Researchers suggest that H.pylori could be responsible for almost 600,000 cases of stomach cancer every year, which is about five percent of all cancers globally.
Symptoms can include:
- Frequent heartburn
- Loss of appetite
- Constant bloating
- Feeling full after eating very little
- Bloody stools
Additionally, research is now pointing to H.pylori as the catalyst for mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT), a type of cancer that affects the immune system. Indigestion or heartburn are the most common symptoms of this lymphoma, which starts in the stomach. Weight loss and stomach pain are also common symptoms.
And then there’s pancreatic cancer, one of the most troublesome malignancies with a dismal prognosis. According to a study in 2013, H.pylori is also “significantly associated” with pancreatic cancer development. A 2010 study from the Yale Cancer Center Prevention and Control Research Program concluded that the increased risk of pancreatic cancer from H.pylori infections may be related to blood types. Blood groups A, B, and AB were more susceptible than blood group O individuals.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
The H.Pylori 25 Percent
Tina Janke, a 59-year-old self-employed publicist living in Southern Oregon, is one of those victims who make up the 25 percent who suffer mightily from H.pylori infections. Janke has a peptic ulcer. Her doctor prescribed Nexium, a proton-pump inhibitor, which is a class of drug intended to reduce gastric acid production.
“The Nexium may be pumping the acid out of my stomach, but it does nothing for the pain,” Janke said.
For the pain Janke has been taking cannabinoid, which she claims has been a very effective pain reliever.
Dr. Jennie Ann Freiman, a gynecologist and wellness blogger, had been experiencing pain for two years. She tested positive for an H.pylori infection. Her doctors recommended three very powerful drugs, two antibiotics, and a proton pump inhibitor. Dr. Freiman was not impressed with the treatment.
“When antibiotics kill H.pylori, they also kill good gut bacteria, the kind needed for the immune system to function properly,” Dr. Freiman said.
She said proton pump inhibitors designed to reduce stomach acid are linked to bone loss, vitamin deficiency, dementia, and other problems.
“I didn’t want to risk it.”
She scoured medical journals and the Internet looking for a gentler, alternative therapy. She found answers on a discussion board, which included the experience of someone who eliminated his infection with water. His theory was because H.pylori thrives in an acid environment, dilution of the acid should kill the bug.
“It made sense to me,” Dr. Freiman said. “I decided to try it with the plan to default to conventional treatment if the water flush didn’t work.”
After three days she had a Herx reaction, which is a short-term detoxification reaction with flu-like symptoms caused by the massive die-off of microorganisms. Her follow up evaluation showed she no longer had an H.pylori infection. Her stomach pain went away.
The Vulnerability Factor
So why are some people more prone to illnesses caused by H.pylori infections? Other than the blood factor study, researchers are still trying to figure it out. Some feel simultaneous infections with other bacteria might contribute to cancer developing. Others say genetics may play a role.
“Genetics has nothing to do with it in my opinion,” Dr. Tsoukalas said. “It could play a minor role, but it’s the epigenetic factors interplay like diet, environment, and stress that modulate the final outcome.”
Dr. Tsoukalas reminds us that humans are made up of 100 trillion cells; 90 percent of them are microbes.
“If microbes (alone) were a problem we would all be dead,” Dr. Tsoukalas said.
H.pylori can be detected with blood, breath, or stool tests. However, the most accurate way to tell if you have an H.pylori infection is with a stomach biopsy, according to Dr. Freiman. With that said no single drug kills H.pylori infections. So conventional treatment is multi-pronged and usually begins with doctors attempting to remove the bacterium from the stomach with antibiotics over a two-week span with a combination of tetracycline, metronidazole, and clarithromycin groups of drugs.
However drug-resistant strains of H.pylori are increasing with more than a 20 percent failure rate in most parts of the world, according to information published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in December, 2015. Dr. Freiman said that failure rate is now at about 35 percent. When the trifecta of antibiotics fail, doctors turn to bismuth, a heavy metal with antimicrobial characteristics.
“Bismuth is found in Pepto-Bismol,” said Harvard Dr. Jordan Tishler. “While bismuth has long been used in conjunction with antibiotics to treat H.pylori, it has clearly been shown not to be effective by itself.”
Bottom line, if the antibiotic cocktailed with bismuth fails due to microbial resistance, then the bismuth treatment is also worthless.
So what do you do then?
Dr. Tsoukalas believes other factors contribute to H.pylori infections. He recommends a more holistic approach to restore a balance between biological processes. Rather than wipe out H.pylori with antibiotics, people would be better served by:
- Drinking more water
- Consuming more Omega-3 fatty acids
- Taking vitamin E for gastric mucosa healing
- Eating zero processed foods
- Avoiding sugar
- Avoiding toxins such as alcohol, painkillers, and cigarettes.
- Adding a high end probiotic
One other key solution Dr. Tsoukalas believes to be effective in fighting drug-resistance strains is silver. Unlike antibiotics, silver works to remove harmful bacteria, leaving essential ones intact. “I believe that since colloidal silver addresses infection and does not alter the flora, it should help balance an over-represented H.pylori. Especially if it also given along with probiotics,” Tsoukalas adds.
Mom Was Right About Her Broccoli
Scientists at John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain a chemical called sulforaphane that kills H.pylori bacteria, even if it was a strain that had become resistant to antibiotics. They found that cooked broccoli was better than raw because cooking or stir frying facilitates the release of beneficial compounds. Others, like Dr. Freiman, believe raw broccoli works best.
Cannabinoids For the Pain And More?
Researchers are also taking a hard look at cannabinoids to help combat H.pylori infections. Cannabinoids are active compounds most commonly found in the cannabis plant. They provide a wide array of reported health benefits such as reducing chronic pain, promoting anti-bacterial properties, stimulating appetite, and promoting healthy digestive functions. There are over 80 different cannabinoids, but the two cited most for their medicinal properties are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
A 2013 Korean study found promising evidence that THC “may be the best medicine available to treat stomach cancer.” Researchers used cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy and dosed them with a synthetic form of THC. The study showed that the dosed cancer cells were drastically reduced. Larger doses of THC led to higher rates of cancer cell death. Researchers believe natural THC is likely even more effective.
Clearly, H.pylori, a bacterium once ignored, is now under the microscope. Researchers have come a long way in understanding the role that H.pylori plays in disease, but a lot more needs to be discovered. Hopefully additional studies will lead the way to treatments that no longer rely on fading antibiotic-era medications.