March 9, 2011

058 Helicobacter pylori [12 April 2010]

Helicobacter pylori is a spiral-shaped bacterium that infects the stomach and duodenum. The species name “pylori” refers to the pyloric valve between the stomach and duodenum. It survives the acid of the stomach by burrowing into the mucosal lining. H. pylori has been known for 25 years as a cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers, but is now suspected of being responsible for many other health problems.

While infection rates are very high – an estimated 50% worldwide – most of the people carrying the bacterium are asymptomatic, meaning it doesn’t seem to be a problem for them. Infection rates are higher in developing countries, and increase with age. In the United States, rates begin at 8% for under 3 years of age and increase to 50% for people over 60.

H. pylori infections were discovered as a cause for ulcers in 1982 by two Australian researchers, Drs Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who were awarded the 2005 Nobel prize for their discovery. It is estimated that in the USA it causes over 80% of stomach ulcers and over 90% of duodenal ulcers. It also causes gastritis which is an inflammation of the stomach wall.

H. pylori infection increases the risk of certain types of stomach cancer and lymphoma. It is believed to cause systemic inflammation and interferes with the absorption of some nutrients. H. pylori infections are associated with increases in cardiovascular disease, stroke, anemia, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, rosacea, eczema, iron deficiency anemia, diabetes, and thyroid disease. So the little critters do a lot more than just cause ulcers.

Because of their ability to burrow into the mucosal lining of the stomach, H. pylori infections are difficult to treat. An intense series of antibiotics often is successful in reducing or eliminating the infection and alleviating most of the symptoms (but not without some side effects). Recently a strain has appeared that is resistant to the standard antibiotic treatment.

Fortunately there is a natural product that can help. Mastic gum, a resin from a shrub grown on the Greek island of Chios, has been used for centuries by peoples of the Mediterranean to treat ulcers. Recent studies have found mastic gum eliminates 50-90% of H. pylori in the stomach and small intestine. Another small study found relief of gastric ulcer symptoms in a week in all subjects, with 83% experiencing complete healing of the ulcers after 4 weeks. Mastic gum is a natural safe product with no adverse side effects. Probiotic supplements containing beneficial bacteria like L. acidophilus have also been shown to help fight H. pylori infection.

If you have ulcers or any of the other conditions associated with Heliobacter pylori, ask your doctor to be tested for a possible infection. If it turns out positive, consider a course of mastic gum and acidophilus.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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