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H. Pylori Infection: How to Spot It and How to Stop It

Over half of the global population has a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, and less than a quarter of these show any symptoms. Yet an H. pylori infection could result in cancer and gastric issues later in life. Most of these infections start in childhood.

Defining H. Pylori

A microscopic image of H. PyloriH. pylori is a bacteria found in the digestive tract. Although usually harmless, these bacteria can attack your stomach lining and are the most common cause of ulcers in both your small intestine and stomach. This type of bacteria tends to adapt to the acidic environment of your stomach because it can change its environment to ensure optimal living conditions. H. pylori, with its spiral shape, can penetrate your stomach lining. Its mucus layer protects it against actions from your immune cells.

In most cases, you become infected with H. pylori while you are still a child. Although it usually does not cause symptoms, it can cause health issues in some people as they grow older. Typical examples include gastritis, inflammation of the stomach, and peptic ulcers.

Children from developing countries are more susceptible to an H. pylori infection. This can be ascribed to cramped living conditions as well as poor sanitation typical of these areas. But adults can become infected as well.

The bacteria are found in feces, saliva, and the plaque on teeth. So, you can transfer the bacteria when kissing or even shaking hands with someone. It is also speculated that transfer could also take place via contaminated food, eating utensils, and water.

How H. Pylori Causes Health Issues

H. pylori bacteria tend to multiply on the lining of your stomach and duodenum, i.e., the first part of your small intestine. There, it secretes urease, an enzyme that changes urea into ammonia. Ammonia acts as a protective agent against stomach acid. As the bacteria increase in numbers, they slowly burrow into your tissue. This could result in the formation of a gastric ulcer or gastritis. It may also eventually result in stomach cancer.

Health Issues Associated with H. Pylori

Most symptoms experienced with an H. pylori infection stem from the presence of an ulcer or due to gastritis. The most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling bloated
  • Lack of appetite
  • Burping

More serious symptoms that may require immediate attention from a healthcare provider include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Bad stomach pain or cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Breathing issues
  • Paleness
  • Dark red or black stools

Those with stomach cancer may experience few symptoms. They may experience the odd bout of heartburn, however. But as the cancer progresses, they may experience the following:

  • A loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • An inability to eat a decent amount of food
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating

H. pylori infections may cause gastritis, which is inflammation of the stomach lining. It can also influence your stomach acid composition. In those with antral gastritis, i.e., inflammation of the antral portion of the stomach, you may see an increase in acid secretion. This may promote the development of duodenal ulcers. If you have atrophic gastritis you have an increased risk of gastric cancer because it impairs the secretion of stomach acid. Atrophic gastritis occurs when you lose gastric glands, which can be due to h. pylori or autoimmunity.

Your Inflammation Circuit

An image of a man holding his inflamed gutThe main issue with H. pylori is that it causes inflammation and may compromise your body’s inflammatory response. Your Inflammation Circuit is part of your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. While h. pylori causes inflammation, on the one hand, your inflammatory response has difficulty eradicating the bacteria due to its ability to defend itself.

You see, any type of bacterial infection causes your immune system to spring into action. Inflammation is part of this reaction. Your body wants to defend itself. In the case of H. pylori, the bacteria have a mucus membrane that protects them from actions from your immune system. But because the immune cells cannot eliminate the bacteria, this means that inflammation could go unchecked and increase over time.

Because symptoms usually appear long after being infected, it could point to low-grade, chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation is often found to affect your immune system, gut, and microbiome. As a result, you could develop an inflamed gastrointestinal system with many more symptoms. And as the bacterial infection increases, so does your body’s inflammation, and so do your stress levels. Ultimately, you may find that your adrenal glands become overtaxed, resulting in a condition called adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue is a condition associated with a host of diverse health symptoms that, at first glance, seem unrelated. Inflammation, however, is one of the main causes. As adrenal fatigue increases, your body’s ability to fight inflammation decreases.

Protocols associated with fighting bacterial infections and associated inflammation should thus also consider providing whole body support and adrenal support.

How Do You Test for H. Pylori?

Many symptoms similar to those of an H. pylori infection result from the use of certain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Also, if you present no symptoms associated with an ulcer, the chances are that your healthcare provider will not test for this type of infection. But if you have had ulcers previously, or you present the symptoms, you may need to find out if an H. pylori infection is the cause. Tests usually conducted include:

Stool Test

  • The stool antigen test is the most common method of finding out if you have this type of infection. The test looks for certain antigens that indicate the presence of these bacteria.
  • A stool polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test specifically identifies the presence of H. pylori. It may also identify mutations that may prove resistant to common treatments.

Blood Test

A blood test measures your H pylori antibodies. It cannot, however, indicate whether you currently have the infection, nor when you first got it.

Urea Breath Test

For this test, you either receive a tablet or a drink containing a flavored solution of urea. You then breathe into a special bag that tests for the level of carbon dioxide in your breath before and after the urea solution. An H. pylori infection typically changes your body’s urea into carbon dioxide. The breath test thus examines whether you have higher than normal carbon dioxide levels.

Upper Endoscopy Exam

During an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, a small tube with a small camera attached, i.e., an endoscope, is used to look into your stomach and duodenum. They may also collect a sample in the area and have it examined for the presence of H. pylori. This procedure can be done when you are asleep or awake. If awake, you will receive relaxation medications beforehand.

Healthcare providers usually only conduct this type of test if you also have other gastrointestinal issues. It is more invasive than a blood, stool, or breath test. This type of test also helps your healthcare provider determine the presence of cancer.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

A CT scan is a powerful X-ray showing clear details of your body’s internal structure. It enables healthcare practitioners to identify potential problems like ulcers.

Upper Gastrointestinal Test

This test requires you to drink a liquid containing barium and then have an X-ray taken. Barium tends to coat the areas where H. pylori infections occur. It also makes it easier to identify problem areas.

Addressing an H. Pylori Infection

An image of a syringe and capsules with the word antibioticsIn conventional healthcare, a doctor may recommend addressing an H. pylori infection with a combination of medications. These would include medications to get rid of the bacteria, as well as those addressing the health issue it caused.

The first port of call in addressing this type of bacterial infection is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Typical examples include amoxicillin, tetracycline, tinidazole, clarithromycin, and metronidazole. Your healthcare provider would probably suggest two from this group. This is to counteract the possibility of the bacteria developing a resistance to one.

The second thing your healthcare provider may suggest is rectifying the damage caused by H. pylori. This may involve addressing an ulcer or damage to your duodenum. They may prescribe medications that help balance your stomach acid composition. Called proton pump inhibitors, these medications may block the tiny pumps in your stomach that produce stomach acid. Examples include omeprazole, pantoprazole, and dexlansoprazole.

Another option they may look into is histamine blockers like cimetidine, famotidine (Pepcid), or nizatidine. These medications block your histamine production. Histamine tends to promote acid production in the stomach.

And lastly, bismuth subsalicylate is sometimes added to antibiotics or proton pump inhibitor medications. It has a protective effect on the stomach lining.

Addressing H. Pylori Naturally

If you are someone who prefers a more natural approach to addressing health issues, there are a few options for natural remedies for H. pylori.

Increase Your Stomach Acid

H. pylori is one of the main causes of stomach ulcers in those with low stomach acid levels. Increasing your stomach acid content can help if you have such a problem. You could consider a hydrochloric acid supplement, apple cider vinegar, or the use of herbs like licorice root and ginger.

Eat Some Biofilm Busters

Bacteria protect themselves by means of what we call biofilm. It protects them from harm while in your stomach. Biofilm busters actively destroy this biofilm layer, though, making the bacteria more vulnerable to eradication. Examples of biofilm busters include:

  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Oregano
  • Curcumin
  • Cranberries

Licorice Root

Licorice root has long been a traditional remedy for addressing stomach ulcers. It also has an antibacterial effect that may help kill bacteria. Furthermore, it may help reduce the incidence of acid reflux or indigestion. Do remember, however, that it may have an interaction with certain drugs like blood thinners and diuretics. Also, note that serious side effects can occur if you take licorice for longer than 4 weeks.

Mastic Gum

The resin from a specific tree that grows in Mediterranean areas, mastic gum has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Literature also suggests it is effective in killing off an H. pylori infection at higher doses.

Aloe Vera

The strong anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera are well documented. Literature also suggests that its strong antibacterial properties may help in eradicating H. pylori infections. It is also great at coating the lining of the digestive tract and healing leaky gut.

Glutamine

An image of Glutamine powderLiterature suggests that a glutamine supplement may block mucosal changes caused by H. pylori. The supplement also has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It is a key amino acid for healing the gut lining.

Digestive Tract Health

Many people with H. pylori suffer from leaky gut. Healing your gut lining will help protect you against the actions of H. pylori. One step towards this is opting for high-fiber foods and limiting your intake of refined carbohydrates. You should also quit smoking if you smoke, limit alcohol intake, and reduce stress.

Probiotics

Probiotics have a balancing effect on gut bacteria. Literature suggests that when taken either before or after antibiotics, probiotics may improve the rate of H. pylori eradication. Furthermore, they may also help prevent yeast overgrowth. Good probiotic options include saccharomyces and lactobacillus.

Raw Honey

Raw honey has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Using honey together with other protocols may promote faster healing.

Green Tea

Using green tea as a mouth wash may inhibit H. pylori growth. Rich in polyphenols, it may also help reduce inflammation when taken internally.

When to Retest After Addressing H. Pylori

An H. pylori infection and its associated conditions do not clear up overnight. You may have to wait up to two weeks before you are fully healed. Sometimes it may take longer. Typically, you would go for a retest four to six weeks after completing your medications. This time gap should help avoid the occurrence of false negatives.

How to Reduce Your Risk of H. Pylori

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of an H. pylori infection. Proper hygiene habits top the list. You should always make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before eating, after using the bathroom, and before cooking. Also, never eat food that has not been properly prepared or which you may suspect of contamination of any sort. Furthermore, reduce your stress levels if possible. Stress is one of the main reasons your body is unable to fight off an infection.

In Closing

While a large portion of the US population has H. pylori, it only causes infections rarely. But for a certain segment of those that do have it, it can have debilitating consequences.

If you have an ulcer and believe H. pylori is the cause, here are a few things you can do about the situation:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about doing a test to see if you have this bacterial infection.
  • Explore the use of natural remedies to correct gastric imbalances.
  • Go back to your healthcare provider within six to eight weeks of completing any course of medication to retest for the bacteria.

If considering natural remedies, please talk to your healthcare provider first. They are best able to discern the suitability or possible contraindications of any medication or supplement you may use.

If you would like to know more about how to address an H. pylori infection, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

H. pylori is a bacteria species that affects your gastric processes. Because it causes inflammation, it does impact your adrenal health. When addressing this type of infection, bear in mind to provide adrenal support as well. Your healthcare provider is best able to suggest the best therapies.

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