H. Pylori Natural Treatment Guide: Symptoms, Diet, Herbals
H. pylori was the first bacteria to be formally recognized as a carcinogen and is an underlying root cause of many gastrointestinal disorders. Researchers and sufferers have been wanting to find how to cure H. pylori since its role in stomach ulcers was discovered over 30 years ago. And with the conventional triple antibiotic therapy no longer considered gold standard because of low success rates, H. pylori natural treatment approaches have become increasingly well researched, effective and preferred in clinical practice in recent years.
Having helped hundreds of clients at The Functional Gut Health Clinic eradicate H. pylori in recent years using natural protocols, we’re excited to share both our understanding and current approach.
Here’s everything we’re going to cover:
What is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
How do you catch it and how prevalent is it?
What diseases can it cause?
Symptoms of H. pylori infection
H. pylori testing options available
H. pylori natural treatment protocols we use
What is Helicobacter pylori?
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a gram-negative spiral-shaped bacteria that can be found burrowed into the mucosal layer of the stomach. Although it is thought to have been infecting humans for thousands of years, it was only discovered by two Australian researchers in 1982, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 2005.
Nobody thought bacteria could survive in the highly acidic environment of the stomach, but it is now known that H. pylori can hang out there and cause up to 80% of gastric and other GI ulcers, chronic gastritis and stomach cancer, amongst other upper GI symptoms and conditions. It manages to survive this harsh environment by burrowing into the less acidic mucosal layer that lines the stomach that protects it from its acidic habitat.
In early phases of H.pylori colonization many experience low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) and its associated symptoms. Over time, additional H. pylori strains may colonize, including those with ‘Virulence Factors’ that bring increased risk of symptoms and disease. More on this below. Because H. pylori can colonize its host for life, it can create chronic symptoms and long-term health complications in many sufferers.
H. pylori prevalence - how common is it?
While it is estimated that around half of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori, the rates vary widely by region and socio-economic status. For example, it is estimated that:
> Regions with the highest rates of H. pylori infections are Africa (70%), South America (69%) and Western Asia (67%).
> Regions with the lowest rates of H. pylori infection are Australia (25%), Western Europe (34%) and North America (37%).
> According to the CDC, in the United States H. pylori is more prevalent among older adults, African Americans, Hispanics, Indegenous Alaskans and lower socioeconomic groups.
> It is estimated that in the United States, the prevalence of H. pylori infection is 20% for people younger than 30 years old and 50% for those older than 60.
As such, it is not ‘normal’ for those under 50 years old who aren’t from an at-risk ethnic or socio-economic group to be infected with H. pylori. And given the symptom profile and long term consequences of H. pylori (discussed below), eradicating it should be a priority when identified on testing in symptomatic clients.
H. pylori transmission - is it contagious?
H. pylori is thought to be transmitted from saliva, vomit or fecal matter but the exact route is still not clear. The most common ways to catch H. pylori are likely:
Pre-chewing food given to babies
Contaminated food or water
Poor hygiene - e.g. lack of hand washing.
Given the increased prevalence in certain regions, traveling to developing countries may increase your risk of H. pylori infection. However, according to the CDC, short-term travelers aren’t at significant risk of H. pylori but expats and long-stay travelers may be at higher risk.
Our body’s immune system is designed to prevent infections like H. pylori. Because it resides primarily in the stomach, our major defense mechanism is stomach acid. As such, those with low levels of stomach acid may be at higher risk of H. pylori infection. We talk a lot about stomach acid in this blog, but in short, the main contributors to low stomach acid are:
> H.pylori itself, as it produces ammonia as a by-product to neutralize stomach acid.
> Age, as our gastric acid secretions reduce as we get older.
> Stress (physical and emotional), which can impact the production of stomach acid.
> Deficiencies in vitamins or minerals essential to HCL production (e.g. zinc and vitamin B6), which may lead to low stomach acid.
> Proton pump inhibitors and antacids, which are specifically designed to reduce the volume and acidity of stomach acid.
> GI surgery (e.g. gastric bypass surgery) that can reduce the amount of stomach acid produced.
Studies have also shown those with lower levels of Vitamin D are more likely to be infected with H. pylori. As with stomach acid, this is thought to be a result of Vitamin D’s importance in modulating our body’s innate and adaptive immune responses.
Potential long-term consequences of H. pylori
H.pylori is most famously associated with stomach ulcers, but emerging research has also identified potential associations with a number of other conditions, including:
> Gastric diseases including gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), bile reflux gastritis, stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
> Iron deficiency anemia - H.pylori competes with our body for dietary iron.
> Skin disorders - found in 81% of rosacea patients who also had gastric complaints.
> Neurodegenerative diseases - including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
> Autoimmune disorders - including Grave’s disease and sclerosis.
H. pylori’s biggest side-effect appears to be its ability to produce an enzyme called urease which is hydrolyzed into ammonia to neutralize stomach acid and dampen the body’s immune response. It is this reduction in stomach acidity that allows H. pylori to continue living in what would otherwise be too harsh an environment. Because stomach acid is an important first line of defense for our immune system to kill off ingested pathogens, the risk of further infections (and subsequent conditions) also increases. If you have H. pylori, we tend to find other pathogens or overgrowths in the GI tract for this reason.
As part of it’s ongoing defense, H. pylori burrows into the gut lining (epithelial cells) and starts to create damage and chronic inflammation. While not everyone with H. pylori is symptomatic or develops these long-term symptoms, certain virulence factors may explain the variation from person to person. That is, not all H. pylori infections are created equal.
The importance of H. pylori virulence factors
Basically, H. pylori infections carrying specific virulence factors, or genes, can lead to more severe symptoms and health consequences. Virulence factors are molecules produced by bacteria that allow them to increase their ability to cause harm by improving colonization, suppressing the immune system and obtaining nutrition. For H. pylori these include the following genes listed in the table below, including cytotoxin-associated gene A (Cag A) and vacuolating cytotoxin A (VacA), both of which can cause tissue damage and inflammation.
This is why advanced stool testing that allows us to identify the presence of these virulence factors can help prioritize H. pylori in the treatment hierarchy when correlated with reported symptoms. Virulence factors also explain why when a person is symptomatic, the theory that “half the world’s population has it so it doesn’t matter” is neither accurate nor helpful.
Symptoms of H. pylori infection
Many people have non-severe symptoms which can lead to the belief that the infection doesn’t affect them. It becomes a hidden infection that may present issues a lot later making treatment that much more complex. But for others there may be any of the following H. pylori symptoms.
The most common signs and symptoms of H. pylori we see in clinical practice are:
Heartburn or reflux, leading to GERD - see below
Upper abdominal pain
Bad breath (Halitosis) - particularly after eating protein
Difficulty digesting protein-heavy meals
Other less common symptoms of H. pylori reported include:
Nausea and/or less commonly vomiting
Undigested food in the stool
In addition to those listed above, more serious infections can cause the following symptoms:
Chronic dysfunction at T6 - T7 vertebral levels
Dark or tarry stools
Anemia (low red blood cell count)
Decreased or loss of appetite
Chronic malabsorption (from lack of acidity in the stomach)
Acid Reflux and GERD - What’s the connection?
Low stomach acid is one of the causes of acid reflux and GERD. We have written a blog about this very subject which you can read about HERE. But in a nutshell, the sphincter that closes off the stomach from the esophagus after food has entered needs a certain level of acidity to seal it up properly. When stomach acid has been neutralized (lowered), the sphincter can remain open or at least not completely shut. When this happens the gastric juices can flow back up the esophagus and result in acid reflux and GERD.
So, because H. pylori neutralizes stomach acid via the production of ammonia (discussed above), it is a common root cause of acid reflux and GERD in many of our clients.
H. pylori testing: How can we find it?
A number of H. pylori testing options are available for identifying the presence of an infection. We have listed the main ones below. In our experience, DNA stool testing is the most reliable but is also prone to false negatives - infections not showing up on testing - like all of the options listed.
Breath test - a Urea breath test shows if you are infected by analyzing a sample of your breath. While breath tests are typically accurate, safe, simple and quick to perform, they aren’t able to determine the presence of virulence factors. They are however, a particularly useful test to check whether the infection has been successfully treated.
Stool test - advanced DNA (PCR) stool testing is our current go-to for identifying the presence of H. pylori and virulence factors known to worsen symptoms. Older forms of stool testing didn’t have a great hit rate on identifying H. pylori which led to many sufferers not being diagnosed correctly. A stool test can also identify other co-infections that may be contributing to GI symptoms.
Blood test - These can identify a history of infection. They are not useful for checking whether the infection is current or has been successfully treated because the antibody to H. pylori (the marker of the body’s response to infection) can remain in the blood for years.
Endoscopy - The infection may be found at the same time as a peptic ulcer, with an invasive test called an endoscopy. H. pylori can be detected by a number of methods - including looking at samples under a microscope, using a chemical reaction or growing it in the laboratory.
H. pylori natural treatment protocol approaches
H.pylori is thought to infect around one third of the population in developed countries. With many of those infected considered to be ‘asymptomatic’, some researchers believe it to be a normal part of the digestive flora. However, in our experience working with symptomatic clients with H.pylori, removing the infection has a positive impact on symptoms in most cases.
There are multiple treatment options available for H.pylori, including both antibiotics and natural antimicrobials. I recommend working with a practitioner to address H.pylori if you are symptomatic and have this bacteria in your GI tract. However, here are our suggestions and treatment approaches to consider for H. pylori.
Diet for H. pylori
Diet alone will not eradicate H. pylori, but we can introduce and remove certain foods to reduce inflammation and reliance on stomach acid during the eradication phase. The following may help reduce inflammation:
> removing inflammatory foods like processed foods, alcohol, gluten, dairy and sugar.
> eating cooked rather than raw food.
> smaller meal sizes.
> avoiding caffeine and carbonated drinks, spicy and pickled foods.
The following foods have been studied for their anti-H. pylori effects, with many clinicians including them in protocols to aid eradication:
> Green tea
> Fish oil (omega-3 source) from supplements or oily fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon or herring
> Broccoli sprouts
Stress reduces our production of stomach acid. As such, incorporating routines that help us reduce stress, especially around meal times can be supportive. It might sound simple, but the three most effective stress-reducing strategies we like to encourage clients to adopt include:
> Replacing excessive cardio exercise with forms of movement like walking and yoga that place less stress on the body.
> Taking a moment before meals to slow-down, breathe and just generally be more mentally present while eating.
> Prioritize for at least 8 hours of sleep per night to ensure you’re giving the body enough space to rest and repair.
H. pylori natural treatment - herbals and supplements:
If you are considering a H. pylori natural treatment protocol, here are a few product options and considerations:
Antimicrobials / herbals for H. pylori
For eradicating H. pylori we typically use a protocol that includes Matula Tea, often combined with Mastic Gum and/or Allicin (garlic extract). Since we started using Matula Tea in our protocols, we have had around fifty clients complete a protocol with only two clients needing a second round to successfully eradicate H. pylori. This broadly aligns with the in-vitro research (commissioned by Matula) on its effectiveness. Given Matula Tea doesn’t have any side-effects (other than general die-off symptoms for some people), only takes 30 days and is in an easy to consume tea, it has been a real game-changer for our protocols. It might be the world’s most expensive tea but including it in our protocols has certainly improved client outcomes. You can learn more about Matula Tea HERE. We always use antimicrobials in combination with a number of other support products so can’t comment on the effectiveness of Matula Tea when taken on its own.
Like most bacterial infections, H. pylori is known to form biofilms as part of its survival and defense against eradication. As such, we commonly use a biofilm disruptor to help breakdown biofilm and assist with eradication. There are a number of products available, but the most well tolerated and effective in our clients is Biofilm Defense by Kirkman Labs. If recommended by your practitioner, you can find it on Amazon or iHerb.
Probiotics for H. pylori
Probiotics have been shown to aid in eradicating H. pylori and are generally helpful in accelerating the gut healing process. Lactobacillus strains (including L. fermentum, L. casei and L. brevis) have specifically been identified in scientific research for their H. pylori-fighting abilities.
Avoid using HCL
While some practitioners promote HCL use to combat H. pylori’s ability to reduce stomach acidity, this is not something we typically recommend. The theory is that HCL supplementation stimulates H. pylori to burrow deeper into the mucosal layer of the stomach lining to protect itself against rising stomach acid levels, further entrenching the infection and making it difficult to eradicate. For this reason, we err on the side of caution and avoid HCL during the eradication phase where possible.
Liver and gallbladder support
Stomach lining support
Including additional support products such as DGL, slippery elm, marshmallow root and aloe vera can all help to soothe and heal the stomach lining both during and after H. pylori eradication.
H. pylori die-off and detox support
As bacteria cells are killed, they release endotoxins into the GI tract that can provoke the immune system and cause an inflammatory response. You can learn more about die-off in THIS detailed blog post. In short, we often recommend the use of Zeolite clay (very alkaline so take in capsule form so it doesn’t impact the acidity of the stomach environment) or activated charcoal to help reduce H. pylori die-off symptoms during a protocol. These act like a magnet to bind up toxins and carry them through the GI tract to be eliminated via the stool.
Vitamin D deficiency has been shown in a number of scientific studies to negatively impact the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment. As such, and because Vitamin D operates via a separate mechanism, it has also been proposed that supplementing Vitamin D could increase the effectiveness of H. Pylori treatment. Because those with H. Pylori tend to be Vitamin D deficient, it can be a good idea to supplement both during and post eradication to rebalance these levels and also assist in relapse prevention.
H. pylori Antibiotics
Conventional antibiotics used to be the first line therapy for H. pylori. The standard triple therapy during the 90’s was based on a proton pump inhibitor, clarithromycin, and amoxicillin or metronidazole. However, due to increasing antibiotic resistance to key antibiotics, efficacy rates have dropped to rates lower than 70% and are no longer considered gold-standard, even in conventional medicine. As such, and because of the long-term damage associated with these broad spectrum antibiotics on our gut microbiome, we prefer the H. pylori natural treatment approach discussed above.
Work with our practitioners to address H. pylori naturally
H. pylori in those who are symptomatic, needs to be addressed to prevent the risk of long-term GI conditions. We encourage those who are symptomatic and think they might have H. pylori to work with a practitioner to test and address an infection if identified. If you would like to work with our team of H. pylori experts, please head to the Work With Us page to learn more about how we work online with clients in many countries to eradicate H. pylori and other root causes of IBS symptoms
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