What is Helicobacter pylori?
During the process of digestion, the stomach uses a combination of enzymes and hydrochloric acid to break down food and its other contents. The stomach is protected from this strong gastric acid by a mucous lining.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterium, of which there are around 29 different strains. It lives in the mucus and, as the body fights the infection and the bacteria produces chemicals, it causes inflammation of the lining, which can lead to various gastro-intestinal complaints - most notably gastric and duodenal ulcers.
What causes an Helicobacter pylori infection?
Although it's not entirely clear what causes an H. pylori infection, it's most likely the result of taking in contaminated food or water, or through person to person contact. For example, it's extremely widespread in crowded living conditions and in countries with poor sanitation, where as much as 90% of the adult population can be infected.
Diet and lifestyle choices, such as a high level of alcohol or coffee consumption, an acidic diet and stress, are also likely to be contributing factors.
The incidence of H. pylori infection is surprisingly high, with as much as 40% of the adult population of the UK thought to be infected. Worldwide, this figure is thought to be as high as 50%.
Effects of H. pylori on the body
The most well-known effect of H. pylori on the body is the development of ulcers in the duodenum and stomach.
It is the most common cause of ulcers worldwide, with as many as 90% of sufferers having detectable organisms. This is because chronic infection weakens the integrity of the stomach lining against the ulcerating action of acid.
Otherwise, the majority of people with H. pylori in their gastro-intestinal tracts have few (if any) symptoms. If symptoms are present, they are likely to relate to episodes of gastritis such as:
- abdominal discomfort
- tar-like stools
- decreased appetite
- acid reflux
- and bad breath (halitosis).
"The only way to cure an H. pylori infection is to completely destroy the bacteria. It is important to get the right treatment first time out, as this will give you the best chance of preventing relapses and, more importantly, the onset of ulcers"
Helicobacter pylori diet
The only way to cure an H. pylori infection is to completely destroy the bacteria. It is important to get the right treatment first time out, as this will give you the best chance of preventing relapses and, more importantly, the onset of ulcers.
Your doctor will, of course, be your first port of call for treatment. However, if you have not had any success and your medications have been discontinued, or you have been prescribed long courses of antibiotics which have triggered other digestive disorders or unwanted side effects (such as Candida overgrowth), you may be looking for ways to naturally support your body against the infection.
For example, while traditional medical treatments used to yield 80-90% success rates, studies published in the medical journal Helicobacter are now showing cure rates of just 50%. It therefore seems that H. pylori bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics.
Even if you are having success with medication, antibiotics aren't a "cure all" and it certainly isn't desirable to rely on them for prolonged periods, not least because they destroy the good bacteria in the gut (as well as the bad). It is therefore advisable to try to strengthen your body's own natural defences as much as possible, so that it is better equipped to fight infection itself.
Diet is one of the best ways to do this. Avoid high-fat, high-sugar and nutrient-poor processed foods, all of which can feed infection and aggravate inflammation. Instead, pack your diet with natural whole foods, particularly those that can help to minimise your symptoms.
Fruit, vegetables and green leafy plants
Fruit and vegetables tend to be a rich source of antioxidants and flavonoids, natural compounds which support the body's ability to resist and recover from infections. They are also usually alkalising, high in dietary fibre and packed with enzymes, all of which support digestive health and a stronger immune system.
If you have gastritis related to H. pylori, the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests eating more garlic, celery and onions, which are valuable flavonoid sources. According to research, turmeric, licorice root, thyme, oregano, cinnamon bark and cloves could also be beneficial, because of their natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
If you are trying to eliminate harmful bacteria from your system, it makes sense to try to increase your levels of friendly bacteria to help crowd them out. Probiotics can also be useful during or following courses of antibiotics, to help replenish the friendly bacteria that will inevitably be destroyed by the medication.
Kefir, tofu, miso, natural yoghurt and sauerkraut are all examples of probiotic foods and fermented foods, which you could include in your daily diet. Or, for a more concentrated intake, you could try a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement (ideally containing the Bifidobacterium strain).
For best results, seek guidance from your doctor or nutritionist before changing your diet or starting a supplements program.
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