I’m writing this post with the hopes of helping my sister, whose test results recently came back showing that she had an H. pylori infection. While we’ve heard a lot about the connection between H. pylori and gastric ulcers, we didn’t know much about the connection between H. pylori and dyspepsia. In order to help her think through her options in dealing with it, I wanted to figure out the following:
(1) Why it develops
(2) Whether it can be said to cause dyspepsia (and what other problems it creates)
(3) Whether natural (non-antibiotic) remedies can be used successfully to treat it
Why do H. pylori infections develop?
Heliobacter Pylori, or H. Pylori, acquired infamy in recent years when scientists discovered that the bacteria are to blame for stomach ulcers. It is present in only 5% of babies born in the US, while in the developing world it is much more common. However, around 50% of the world population are said to have H. Pylori bacteria in their system, with 80% of 80 year olds infected (the rate of infection is 1% of the population per year).
Because so many people have H. pylori and do not have problems from it, my tentative hypothesis is that dealing with dyspepsia (indigestion) does not need to be about eradicating H. pylori in the body, but rather about controlling it.
According to Chris Kresser, it is the fermentation of poorly absorbed carbohydrates in the intestines that produces the hydrogen gas that H. pylori prefer (other pathogens do, too, such as E. coli and salmonella). Too much fructose and other fibers and starches, particularly wheat, are known to increase the production of hydrogen gas. Thus, Chris Kresser concludes, to minimize the overgrowth of these bacteria, you should keep sugar, starch, and grain consumption in check.
What problems does H. pylori overgrowth cause?
As the ubiquity of the bacteria suggests, characterizing H. Pylori as an invasive pathogen doesn’t fully do it justice. Computer simulations of H. pylori DNA data suggest that the bacteria have been part of human history for 58,000 years. H. pylori have been shown to play important roles in a host of important biological functions. For example, people without H. pylori have been found to be far more likely to have had asthma as children than those who did. Intriguingly, evidence suggests that H. pylori is necessary for avoiding obesity: it appears to regulate levels of ghrelin, an important hormone for satiety. It seems that H. pylori might live in symbiotic relationship with humans, and play an important role in gene expression.
That being said, H. pylori has been linked to a host of problems. As mentioned above, establishing a connection between the bacteria and stomach ulcers was revolutionary. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who have H. pylori don’t exhibit symptoms. However, it is connected with gastritis, duodenal and gastric ulcers, and increased risk of developing gastric cancer and mucosal-associated-lymphoid (MALT) lymphoma. Importantly for my sister, the role of H. pylori in non-ulcer dyspepsia, i.e. stomach pains etc where you do not have an ulcer, is unclear. However, some connections you may not have heard of, are the following: food allergies, high cholesterol, and nutrient deficiency (such as Vitamin D).
How to heal?
Because H. Pylori has been linked with the problems mentioned above, as well as others, it seems that helping your body control the infection is important. I’d argue that it’s important to try some natural remedies before you go the antibiotics route, especially since many of the problems H. Pylori creates arise in the long term. However, and this should go without saying, I’m not a doctor and you should take this as not much more than my two nosy cents.
If you do decide to go the natural route, these are some of the supplements you might research, which have been discussed as helpful in dealing with H. pylori. While nothing besides antibiotics has been proven effective in eliminating H. pylori, remember that we might not need to “eliminate” the bacteria but rather control it. I’m happy to provide some more information on supplements that might be used, if anyone is interested, but for the time being here are some of the supplements that have been discussed as helpful in controlling H. pylori:
- Mastic gum
- Vitamin C
- Monolaurin from coconut oil
- Apple cider vinegar
Crucially, it’s important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, which means cutting back on the refined foods (including dairy and grains), which is also one that reduces the sugars and starches that feed the bacteria.
My theory is that non-ulcer H. pylori overgrowth creates dyspepsia/indigestion through its acid-lowering effect. Why? Because we also know that H. pylori decreases the acidity of the stomach by suppressing the secretion of stomach acid, which it does to survive in the stomach. Thus, I would argue, in order to alleviate symptoms of dyspepsia/indigestion, it is probably also crucial to help the stomach produce more acid. I hypothesize this because low-stomach acidity has been linked with a host of the symptoms of dyspepsia/indigestion.
I’d like to point out as well that this echoes what Chris Kresser says:
“The more I work with people, the more I think [H. pylori] doesn’t need to be eradicated completely for the reasons that I just said, you know, if it’s a normal resident of the digestive tract and it’s a question of optimizing and normalizing the environment or the ecosystem instead of total eradication, which can actually cause a lot of other problems. The number of antibiotics you have to take and the intensity of that course of antibiotics you have to take to fully eradicate H. pylori is gonna eradicate a lot of other stuff too, good stuff, good bacteria that we need to perform all of the functions that good bacteria does, like digesting food and regulating the immune system.”
Diane Sanfilippo at Balanced Bites has a fantastic post on why and how to increase stomach acidity, and I highly urge you to check it out if you’re struggling with indigestion, whether or not you’re dealing with H. pylori as well: