Half the world’s inhabitants have it.
Can H. Pylori really be that bad?
Over the past three decades, scientists have learned a lot about H. pylori, the screw-shaped bacteria that can be found in the stomachs of one of every two people worldwide. (1)
It started in 1982, with a breakthrough in the scientific understanding of stomach ulcers. A pair of Australian researchers discovered a new organism, H. Pylori, and proved it caused stomach ulcers: a disease that had long been been blamed on stress.
When this finding was met with skepticism in the scientific community, one of the plucky researchers, Barry J. Marshall, had his own stomach biopsied to show it was free of H. pylori. In other words, he himself was a mad scientist’s ideal experimental subject. So he deliberately infected himself with the bacteria—and soon developed gastritis.
In 2005, Marshall and his collaborator were finally awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work. (2) That sparked an explosion of research into the bug and launched a medical journal in its name: Helicobacter.
By 2005, over 25,000 scholarly articles had already been published about the bacterium and its effects, and since then, research has continued at an astounding pace. That has led to an abundance of knowledge about the dangers of this microscopic critter. While some studies have suggested a possibly protective role for H. pylori, it seems to do much more harm than good. The bottom line: You don’t want it in your stomach.
Here are 8 great reasons to find out if you have an H. Pylori infection.
Some research suggests that H. pylori infection is more prevalent in migraine headache sufferers than in those without migraines, while other studies haven’t found such a link. Still, several high quality trials have shown that getting rid of H. pylori can put an end to migraines for some people (17% in one study) and reduce the severity of symptoms for many more (up to 84% of people). (3)
Clear Up Rosacea
Rosacea, or acne rosacea, is an inflammatory disease that causes an angry red rash on the face. Its causes aren’t well understood, but in some cases at least, H. pylori seems to be implicated. H. pylori infection can cause the immune system to produce powerful inflammatory substances, and these can cause outbreaks on the face. Health practitioners who work with the gut often point out that what happens inside the gut can be reflected on the skin. If H. pylori causes ulcers on the lining of the stomach, its ability to produce rashes and sores on the skin isn’t surprising. If you suffer from rosacea, you know how hard it is to treat. Take heart! Research shows that eradicating H. pylori produces better results than routine rosacea treatments. (4)
Get Rid of Gastritis
Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach. While that word might not mean much to you, the symptoms the condition produces may be all too familiar. Feeling full when you’ve barely begun eating, belching, heartburn, nausea, and abdominal pain are signs that your stomach is inflamed, and a likely agent of that inflammation is H. pylori. Knowing you’re not alone in feeling like this—up to 40% of adults in the West suffer from these symptoms—probably doesn’t give you much comfort. (5) On the other hand, if you have H. pylori, you could find a great deal of comfort in eradicating it. In a Canadian study, those whose infections were eliminated had a significant reduction of their symptoms. (6)
Reduce Raynaud's Symptoms
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition in which your fingers, toes, and nose feel cold or numb when you experience stress or cool temperatures. This syndrome has been associated with H. pylori infection. In one trial, 77% of patients with Raynaud’s who also had H. pylori had either complete elimination of their symptoms or a significant decrease in the frequency, length, and intensity of attacks when they got rid of the bacteria. (7)
Improve Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)
ITP is an autoimmune disorder in which the body destroys its own platelets. This results in easy bruising or bleeding and reddish purple spots on the lower legs. The link between ITP and H. pylori was discovered in 1998. For now, researchers don’t have a good explanation for how H. pylori produces this condition in some people, but studies strongly support the benefits of eliminating the infection. The American Society of Hematology recommends that people with ITP who have H. pylori follow a program to eradicate it. (3)
Restock Iron Stores
When you have low iron levels, you have a greater chance of becoming ill, your immune system is weakened, and you may feel fatigued and unable to concentrate. The link between low iron stores and H. pylori infection has been well established by multiple research studies. There’s now an international consensus that whenever low iron levels are found—whether in children, teens, adults, pregnant women, or the elderly—the presence of H. pylori should be determined, and if it’s there, it should be eradicated. The good news is that iron levels rebound quickly without iron supplements once H. pylori is killed off. (8)
Protect Against Stomach Cancer
Perhaps the most important—though less urgent—reason to eliminate H. pylori infection is to protect against the development of gastric cancer, which is the second-deadliest cancer worldwide. In fact, H. pylori is the single greatest known risk factor for cancer of the stomach and duodenum. For this reason, the World Health Organization has declared H. pylori to be a carcinogen; however, most people who have H. pylori infections won’t develop cancer. Still, the strong association between cancer and this bacterial infection makes it worth killing off even if it’s currently causing only mild symptoms. (9)
How can you find out whether you have H. pylori?
There are 5 types of laboratory tests.
An antibody blood test checks to see if your body has made antibodies against H. pylori, but it can’t tell the difference between a current and past infection.
A urea breath test uses a radioactive carbon atom to detect H. pylori bacteria in your breath. It’s quite expensive, and its results are sometimes inconsistent.
A stomach biopsy takes a small sample of tissue from the lining of your stomach during an endoscopy. This is a fairly invasive test.
A stool antigen test, also known as the HPSA test, provides evidence of the presence of H. pylori bacteria by measuring whether antigens—substances that trigger the immune system to fight H. pylori infection—are present in your feces (stool).
A GI-MAP stool test measures the DNA of the microbes in a stool sample using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technology.
Are you one of the 50% of people who have H. pylori?
For many people, the bacteria cause symptoms that aren’t easily diagnosed. Because of this some practitioners recommend a brief therapeutic trial in lieu of testing. It may save money and be more effective in the long run to test the waters rather than running a test. If your body responds, it’s a sign that you’ve hit upon a potential answer. Your healthcare provider can help you decide which approach is best for you.
Now that you know all the reasons to eradicate H. pylori, how can you get rid of it?
- Campuzano-Maya G. Hematologic manifestations of Helicobacter pylori infection. World J Gastroenterol 2014; 20(36): 12818-12838. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i36.12818
- Ahmed N. 23 years of the discovery of Helicobacter pylori: Is the debate over? Ann Clin Microbiol Antimicrob. 2005;4:17. doi:10.1186/1476-0711-4-17
- Wong F, Rayner-Hartley E, Byrne MF. Extraintestinal manifestations of Helicobacter pylori: a concise review. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(34):11950-11961. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i34.11950
- Yang X. Relationship between Helicobacter pylori and Rosacea: review and discussion. BMC Infect Dis. 2018;18(1):318. Published 2018 Jul 11. doi:10.1186/s12879-018-3232-4
- Kusters JG, van Vliet AH, Kuipers EJ. Pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(3):449-490. doi:10.1128/CMR.00054-05
- Chiba N, Veldhuyzen Van Zanten SJ, Escobedo S, Grace E, Lee J, Sinclair P, Barkun A, Armstrong D, Thomson AB. Economic evaluation of Helicobacter pylori eradication in the CADET-Hp randomized controlled trial of H. pylori-positive primary care patients with uninvestigated dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Feb 1;19(3):349-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.01865.x
- Gasbarrini A, Massari I, Serricchio M et al. Helicobacter pylori eradication ameliorates primary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Dig Dis Sci. 1998; 43:1641–1645. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018842527111
- Campuzano-Maya G. Hematologic manifestations of Helicobacter pylori infection. World J Gastroenterol. Sep 28, 2014;20(36):12818-12838. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i36.12818
- Wroblewski LE, Peek RM Jr, Wilson KT. Helicobacter pylori and gastric cancer: factors that modulate disease risk. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2010;23(4):713-739. doi:10.1128/CMR.00011-10