By Dr. Erin Stefanacci DC CFMP
Do you or someone you know have frequent heartburn? It may take more than avoiding tomatoes and taking TUMS to solve the problem! Sure, those things are certainly helpful for symptomatic relief of heartburn but you may have a bacterial infection called Helicobacter Pylori residing in your stomach.
Frequent heartburn is one of the many symptoms of H. Pylori. Other symptoms that may be experienced are:
Abdominal pain that is worse when the stomach is empty
Feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating
Aversion to meat
Loss of appetite
There are many complications to H. Pylori such as stomach cancer, Barrett’s esophagus, and autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that over 80% of gastric and duodenal ulcers are caused by this critter.
All of these things might sound scary, but something to know is that not all strains of H. Pylori are bad. About 50% of the world's population is estimated to have this gut bacteria and some strains have shown to be protective against certain types of parasites.
What is H. pylori and how do you get it?
H. Pylori or Helicobacter Pylori is a type of bacteria that resides in the digestive tract. One can be infected with H. Pylori from contaminated food, water, utensils, or the body fluid of infected individuals. It is more likely one will come in contact with the bacteria in areas lacking clean water or sufficient sewage systems, but it can be contracted anywhere. You can live with the bacteria for years or even a lifetime without ever experiencing symptoms.
What happens once infected?
Once one is infected, H. Pylori represses a part of the stomach called proton pumps. Proton pumps secrete gastric acid that is responsible for the digestion of proteins in food. So, why would H. Pylori cause acid reflux when it is shutting off the gastric acid pumps? Here’s why! Since the stomach is not at the proper acidity and therefore breaking down what one eats, it doesn’t move food through into the small intestine. As food sits in the stomach it putrefies and creates a byproduct called lactic acid, and this is the source of heartburn.
Many Individuals will take PPIs for heartburn, which are effective for symptoms but they don’t address the H. Pylori infection and long-term use cause a myriad of other issues. For example, if the stomach never reaches a proper pH, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, selenium and boron are not properly absorbed, if at all. Proper stomach pH is also needed to absorb b12 and folate. All of these vitamins and minerals do hundreds of things for the body so proper absorption is essential for optimal health.
Not only is proper stomach acid production important for vitamin and mineral absorption but it protects against other bacterias and pathogens.
How is H. pylori treated?
At Carolina Holistic Health, we see many patients with digestive issues and concerns. For most, we recommend a stool test where we will be able to tell more concretely what is happening. The GI Map looks at virulence factors of H. pylori so we can learn if it is negatively impacting one’s health or not. We then can address the infection using natural remedies as well as improve digestive function that may have been impacted by the bacteria.
For those that have H. pylori, we address the bacteria with herbal supplementation. Then we address digestive function, including gallbladder, pancreas and stomach acid. Since this bacteria has such a big impact on stomach acid, those that already have little or none are more likely to be negatively impacted by this bacteria. One population of people, in particular, we see more impacted by H. pylori are those on PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) for reasons mentioned above.
How to prevent H. pylori?
If you contract H. pylori it’s likely that you will experience zero symptoms or have complications from the bacteria. With proper digestion and adequate stomach acid, your body should be able to combat the bacteria. Other ways to protect your body are to drink filtered water and wash your hands.
If you suspect you may have H. pylori, contact your healthcare provider. If you are interested in learning how I can help you optimize your gut health, schedule a FREE Health Strategy Session today.
**Reminder: This is an educational article that does not constitute medical advice. It is always recommended to speak with your healthcare provider before implementing any of the above recommendations, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medications.