I have been lately discussing various aspects of bowel flora, such as the power of Lactobacillus reuteri to boost oxytocin levels that lead to accelerated healing, increase dermal collagen, and youthfulness. I’ve also posted several discussions about the overwhelmingly common problem of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that can show itself as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome, psoriasis, and autoimmune conditions, or be completely asymptomatic and finally manifest later in life as diverticular disease or colon cancer. Recall that, in SIBO, unhealthy bacterial species such as E. coli, Campylobacter, and others, mostly from the group of organisms Enterobacteriaceae, assume a dominant role, overproliferating and ascending up into the ileum, jejunum, duodenum, and stomach—where they don’t belong. (Because most mainstream doctors are woefully ignorant about SIBO, we frequently discuss self-management strategies in our Undoctored Inner Circle.)
Let’s now discuss another undesirable species of microorganism that—like organisms populating SIBO—are common and can explain some of the issues that persist even after successfully navigating the Undoctored Wild, Naked, Unwashed program. Our basic program is extremely powerful for reversing type 2 diabetes, overweight/obesity, most skin rashes, eating disorders, migraine headaches, and numerous other health conditions. But I am always on the lookout to identify issues that, if not fully addressed after completing the basic program, can be responsible for persistent issues such as persistent unresponsive psoriasis or acid reflux. I am talking about the microorganism Helicobacter pylori.
H. pylori has an interesting history in the medical world. For centuries, gastritis, heartburn, and stomach and duodenal ulcers were viewed as the product of stress, consuming too many acidic foods, and myriad other explanations, often treated with advice to avoid vinegar, tomato sauce, and drinking more milk. Then two Australian researchers, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, identified H. pylori in the base of human ulcers and published their observations in 1984, throwing the entire gastroenterology world topsy-turvy. It explained why people treated with only stomach acid-suppressing drugs frequently experience relapse. Unfortunately, Marshall and Warren were summarily ridiculed, ostracized from medical circles (even prompting Marshall to infect himself with H. pylori then have biopsy-proven gastritis develop). Subsequent work, however, proved them right, earning them a Nobel Prize for Medicine 20 years later in 2005 . It is now clear that stomach and duodenal ulcers that are not caused by anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen are nearly all caused by H. pylori.
It has since become clear that H. pylori is oddly ubiquitous, essentially a parasite that can be found in about 35% of Americans, 70% of people around the world, with increasing likelihood of infection as we age. While originally identified as the cause for ulcers, then gastric cancer, it has become clear that H. pylori is responsible for a lot more. Among the health conditions that have been associated with H. pylori are:
- Increased stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria) in its early phases—Thus the responsiveness of acid reflux, reflux esophagitis, and ulcers to stomach acid-blocking drugs, the H2 blockers and PPIs. In later phases, hypo- or achlorhydria, i.e., low or absent stomach acid, can develop, the situation that sets the stage for stomach cancer.
- Increased gastrin hormone levels—In addition to accounting for the hyperacidity of H. pylori, this may be among the phenomena that lead to stomach cancer, as gastrin provokes proliferation of stomach lining and acid-producing parietal cells.
- Skin rashes—A variety of skin rashes have been associated with H. pylori, but persistent psoriasis and rosacea are among the most common. Eradicating H. pylori is more effective in reducing rosacea than are drugs that are specifically prescribed for this rash.
- Coronary disease—Especially virulent varieties of H. pylori (that express the CagA toxin) are more likely to be found in people who develop heart disease.
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP)—An uncommon condition in which blood platelet counts dip dangerously low and bruising and hemorrhage can occur.
- Autoimmune conditions—The list of autoimmune conditions that accompany H pylori and recede with its eradication continue to grow and includes ITP, Sjogren’s syndrome, Henoch-Schlonlein purpura, some forms of autoimmune nephropathy (kidney disease) and peripheral neuropathies.
- A variety of lung diseases–Such as chronic bronchitis and other conditions.
- Deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron
- Other cancers that include lung, hepatobiliary, and pancreatic.
Oddly, over the tens of thousands of years that this bacteria has coexisted with humans, it may also have developed the ability to provide beneficial effects such as modest reduction in potential for asthma, some forms of allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, and esophageal reflux and cancer. On balance, however, the benefits of eradication of the bacteria outweighs the modest potential for benefit.
H pylori is therefore more like E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, i.e., species that can inhabit the human body without harm but have potential to exert pathological effects when circumstances permit, and less like, say, a Lactobacillus species that provides benefits but almost no pathogenic potential. It is therefore helpful to 1) identify whether you harbor this organism, then 2) take steps to suppress or eradicate the organism. It is a hotly-debated question whether people without symptoms or other outward manifestations should pursue such a course, an issue we shall be discussing in future. And, consistent with our Undoctored approach, we shall be discussing how to identify the presence of H. pylori and ways to reduce/eradicate it on your own in the Undoctored Inner Circle.