Helicobacter Pylori – Why It Can Be a Problem
What is Helicobacter Pylori, and why can it be a problem?
High levels of helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a gastric (stomach) bacteria, are often associated with GERD (heartburn), as well as stomach ulcers and stomach cancer, and research is now finding a strong link between H. pylori and GERD. Fortunately, there are dietary choices we can make to help maintain healthy digestion and prevent more serious health problems.
As we age, most of us produce less stomach acid. Low stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid, or gastric acid) is the major cause of a wide range of health conditions because low stomach acid levels result in insufficient digestion of protein and carbohydrates. This impairs absorption of minerals and other vital nutrients that our body requires. Over time, the nutrient deficiencies that result from low stomach acid can be contributing factors to nearly every conceivable health problem, from bone loss to depression, not just the obvious symptoms of acid reflux, gas, or bloating.
Everyone has H. pylori bacteria in their stomach and gastrointestinal tract, but when you have the proper high acidity gastric environment, which in a healthy person should vary from a pH of 3 to as low as a pH of 1 (the lower the number, the higher the acidity), bacteria is well controlled and has difficulty surviving.
The normal method of testing for H. pylori is a breath test, where you exhale into a Mylar bag after taking a pill that reacts with the bacteria. The bag with the exhaled air is sent to a laboratory for analysis to determine if you have H. pylori bacteria present in the stomach.
If the test determines that you have H. pylori, western medicine uses a one-week treatment that combines a PPI (proton pump inhibitor which blocks the production of stomach acid) with two antibiotics, usually clarithromycin and amoxicillin, to cure it. There can be variations, using different PPIs or antibiotics. While this treatment can be successful at eradicating the bacteria, the use of PPIs and antibiotics can bring side effects, as the antibiotics not only eradicate the H. pylori, but also kill the good bacteria that are critical to the immune system and gastrointestinal health.
To make things worse, by creating a low acid environment in the stomach, the PPIs (i.e. Prilosec, Zantac, Nexium) make it easier for the H. pylori to return. H. pylori has a much more difficult time surviving in a stomach that has normal (very low pH) stomach acid. In fact, bacterial overgrowth, or sickness from ingested bacteria (like E. coli from foods) is more common in people who have hypochlorhydria (the technical term for low gastric acid).
The problem with this approach to curing H. pylori, which is often not effective over time, is that H. pylori thrives in a low gastric acid environment. In fact, the common practice of over-prescribing antacids for heartburn provides the perfect environment for bacterial overgrowth in the stomach.
Antacids and PPIs which block the production of stomach acid are in my belief among the most dangerous classifications of drugs. PPIs generally should not be prescribed for more than a three-month period, and initially, even the companies that produced this classification of drug recommended no more than six weeks of use, but some physicians routinely keep their patients on these drugs for years.
Without sufficient stomach acid, you cannot break down and digest protein or ionize the minerals from food. As stomach acid is critical for the digestion of food and the absorption of minerals, drugs that stop the production of stomach acid can lead to long-term health problems due to deficiencies of protein and vital minerals that are cofactors in the production of critical nutrients. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are also common for users of PPIs.
Physicians with traditional training often assume that the symptoms of heartburn (GERD, acid reflux) are caused by an excess of stomach acid. Medical schools are often subsidized by pharmaceutical companies, and this is how some doctors are trained – the most common approach is to treat the symptoms with a drug, rather than consider the cause of the symptoms.
Based on the (often incorrect) assumption of excess stomach acid, acid-blocking PPI drugs like Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and Zantac are frequently prescribed. Often, the reason people have acid reflux is that the lower esophageal sphincter valve which normally only opens to let foods into the stomach opens to allow the high acid gastric contents of the stomach to travel back up to the esophagus. The stomach is designed to survive the low pH acidic environment where hydrochloric acid and enzymes help break down food and prepare it for absorption in the small intestine. The esophagus can be damaged if exposed to acids produced in the stomach.
There can be many causes of acid reflux (GERD) including:
- Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria)
- Excess fat in the abdominal area
- Diet: Spicy foods, greasy foods, acidic foods, alcohol, eating late at night, or specific foods that can trigger GERD
- Lying down too quickly after a large meal
- H. pylori
In addition to avoiding some of the triggers, there are also foods and dietary supplements that can help. Manuka honey (the higher the UMF or MGO level the better) and supplements that use zinc carnosine (Pepzin GI) and mastic gum may be effective at reducing levels of H. pylori. In addition, Betaine HCL and pepsin supplements can be effective at increasing stomach acid. This approach is often a very good solution for reducing acid reflux as well.
If you suffer from acid reflux, gastritis, IBS, or other stomach issues, I recommend Gastrazyme by Biotics Research. A blend of natural ingredients that enhance and support the digestive process, Gastrazyme has proven to be one of the most effective supplements for healthy digestion. I also recommend Living Alchemy Your Flora Professional probiotic, as IBS and other stomach-related issues are often associated with low levels of good bacteria. A quality probiotic can help nourish, restore, and support your digestive system.
Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2014-2022. First published in October 2014, latest major revision in May 2022. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.
Relationship between Helicobacter pylori infection and GERD. Acta Biomed. 2018; PMCID: PMC6502218.