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Helicobacter Pylori – why it can be a problem

What is Helicobacter Pylori, and why can it be a problem?

Everyone has Helicobacter Pylori bacteria in their stomach and gastrointestinal tract. 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.

As we age, most of us produce less stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid, or gastric acid). Low stomach 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, and impaired absorption of minerals and other vital nutrients that our body requires. Over time, the nutrient deficiencies that result from low stomach acid can be factors or causes of every conceivable health problem, from bone loss to depression, not just the obvious symptoms of acid reflux, gas or bloating.

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. 

The normal method of testing for H. Pylori is a breath test, where you exhale into a mylar bag after taking a pill which reacts with the H. Pylori 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. This treatment can often be successful at eradicating the bacteria, however the use of PPIs and antibiotics can bring side effects, as the antibiotics not only eradicate the H. pylori bacteria; they also kill the good bacteria that are so critical to the immune system and gastrointestinal health.

To make things worse, the PPIs (i.e. Prilosec, Zantac, Nexium), by creating a low acid environment in the stomach, 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 (i.e. E. coli, from foods, etc.) is more common in people who have hypochlorhydria (the technical term for low stomach/gastric acid).

The problem with this approach to curing H. pylori, which is often not effective, 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 drug companies that produced this classification of drug recommended no more than six weeks of use, but physicians routinely keep their patients on these dangerous drugs for years.

Low stomach acid is associated with a wide range of health problems, as without sufficient stomach acid you cannot breakdown 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 potentially  lead to long term health problems due to deficiencies of protein and vital minerals that are cofactors in the production of critical nutrients the body needs. 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. This is how doctors are trained, but we have to understand that medical schools are often subsidized by pharmaceutical companies, and the most common approach is to treat the symptoms with a drug, rather than consider the cause of the symptoms.

Based on this assumption, which is often incorrect, acid blocking PPI drugs are prescribed. The most common PPIs include Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and Zantac. Often, the reason people have acid reflux, is because the LES (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.
* Spicy foods, greasy foods, acidic foods, alcohol, eating late at night, or specific foods that can trigger GERD.
* Smoking
* Lying down too quickly after a large meal.
* H. Pylori

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.

Betaine HCL and pepsin supplements can be effective at increasing stomach acid, and this approach is often the best for reducing  acid reflux.


Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2014. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.