What is H. Pylori and How Can it Affect Digestion?
As many as 50% of people carry the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. It's one of the most common imbalances I see in my practice and can have devastating effects on gut health. H. pylori can be a root cause for further imbalances like SIBO, bloating, diarrhea and nutrient deficiencies.
What is it exactly?
H. Pylori is a spiral-shaped, gram-negative bacteria that lives in the stomach, burrowing into the walls, damaging stomach lining and leading to too little (or too much) acid in the stomach. The infection is very common and can cause low stomach acid, heartburn, reflux, nausea, and in severe cases hyperacidity.
If it evolves virulence factors, H. Pylori can even contribute to gastritis, gastric ulcers, and even stomach cancer.
It can be spread through contaminated food and water, as well as from person to person. It's not uncommon to spread between partners and family members who are exposed to each other's saliva.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of H. Pylori?
Cramping or burning in the upper abdomen
Bloating and cramping
Undigested food in the stool
Low Stomach Acid & H. Pylori
An H. Pylori infection can damage the cells lining your stomach, and lower stomach acid production. Low stomach acid sets the stage for a cascade of digestive issues, since you require adequate stomach acid to break down food and trigger the release of digestive enzymes and bile. You also need robust stomach acid to neutralize pathogens, like a bodyguard at the front door of your body, it keeps the bad guys from coming in and ransacking the place.
H. Pylori damages the parietal cells that secrete stomach acid because less stomach acid allows it to proliferate. It also secretes and enzyme that neutralizes stomach acid. This little bacteria can really mess with digestion.
Nutrient Depletions & H. Pylori
Low stomach acid means your digestive function is reduced, which results in poor nutrient absorption.These are a few nutrients that can be depleted by an H. Pylori infection:
The parietal cells that line the stomach produce something called "intrinsic factor" that is necessary for the absorption of B12 further down the digestive tract. If an H. Pylori infection is present, it can impact the parietal cell's ability to produce intrinsic factor, thus the body's ability to absorb B12.
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant and has been shown to be lowered in cases of H. Pylori infections, as the infection impacts the mucosal lining where Vitamin E is present.
Low stomach acid levels, potentially caused by H. Pylori, can actually cause Vitamin C to be converted into its inactive form. An H. Pylori infection may also impact the body's ability to convert Vitamin C into its active form before it's even absorbed.
H. Pylori may impact the body's ability to absorb iron, due to the damage it causes to gastric tissue. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption and since H. Pylori also impacts Vitamin C levels, the risk is two-fold.
How Do You Test for H. Pylori?
There are a few ways that you can test for H. Pylori. You can speak to your doctor and have a blood test done, a breath test, a biopsy via an endoscopy, or my test of choice, a comprehensive stool test like the GI-MAP (which is the one that I use in my practice).
A comprehensive stool test like the GI MAP will provide a more comprehensive look at what's going on in the gut, as well as levels of H. Pylori. This test will even show sub-clinical levels of H. Pylori (that wouldn't conventionally be flagged as "positive"), which can still present with symptoms.
How Do You Get Rid of H. Pylori Naturally?
Medically, H. pylori is treated with antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors, but several herbs have also been shown effective with minimal side effects. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are a few I use in practice with clients:
1. Mastic Gum
Mastic gum is a resin from a tree native to Greece with a long history of use for heartburn and ulcers. It has antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful in eradicating H. Pylori, and lowing gastric inflammation.
2. Slippery Elm Bark
The inner bark from the slippery elm tree is often used to support GI health. It's a mucilaginous herb, which helps to soothe mucosal tissue and protects against things like ulcers and irritation from hyper-acidity.
Barberry contains a compound called berberine, which has been shown to be effective in the eradication of H. Pylori infections. Since this herb is a powerful antimicrobial, it should never be taken long-term or without professional guidance.
4. Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL)
DGL is an anti-inflammatory herb that is super-soothing for mucosal linings. It has shown to be protective against ulcers, as well as effective in inhibiting H. Pylori.
5. Oregano Oil
Oregano oil has been shown to also be effective against H. Pylori. But like berberine, it is a powerful antimicrobial and can have negative effects on the microbiome when used improperly. Please always see a professional before taking oregano oil.
6. Zinc Carnosine
Zinc Carnosine is a chelated form of zinc, that is known to reduce H. Pylori infections, has an anti-ulcer effect, and is supportive of the mucosal lining. The bind between the zinc and the carnosine takes time to break down, so it remains in the stomach for longer than other forms of zinc.
The right dosages and combinations are super important, so make sure you are speaking to a health professional before starting any protocol for H. pylori. This blog post is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice.
Foods That Can Reduce H. Pylori
There is no special diet specific to H. pylori, but some foods have been shown to be helpful in reducing the growth of this bacteria:
Yogurt and kefir (dairy or coconut, as long as they contain live active cultures)
Raw honey and Manuka honey
If you are experiencing some of the common symptoms of H. Pylori (like acid reflux, indigestion, nausea, burping, etc.), and want to inquire to see if this bug might be at the root of your symptoms, then I'm here to help! Check out my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive.