Did you know that approximately one-half of the world’s population harbors H. pylori, a potentially harmful bacterium, in their stomach? While most of them are lucky enough to not develop symptoms, the bug does carry the potential to induce extremely discomforting issues and complications, including ulcers and cancers. Hence, educating yourself about a common global issue and watching out before this bacterium starts invading your gut is necessary.
This article will shed light on H. pylori, how it damages the body, the common symptoms, and the medical and dietary advice to manage it.
An Overview of H. pylori
H. pylori refers to a common bug or bacterium that thrives in the digestive tract and carries the potential to attack the lining of the gut. While a whopping 44 percent of the world’s population carries this bacterium in their body, most of them continue to live normally without any symptoms. Nevertheless, H. pylori is still regarded as a major cause of ulcers or sores in the stomach and small intestine.
This spiral-shaped bug is adapted to thrive in harsh, acidic conditions of the stomach. However, it does attempt to alter the acidity inside the stomach so that its survival can become easier. As the acidity decreases, the defense system of your stomach is lowered, giving the bacterium a chance to penetrate its cells and hide from the body’s immune cells. Once there, it slowly starts deteriorating the lining of the stomach and intestines, causing ulcers or sores.
H. pylori bugs usually infect people in their childhood and persist asymptomatically until they are detected and killed with appropriate medical treatment. In many cases, they also lead to additional diseases, such as gastritis and peptic ulcers.
H. pylori Infection Causes
Experts are still unsure how H. pylori are acquired or spread from one person to another. However, they agree that just like other germs, this bug has the tendency to be passed through direct contact, such as kissing.
Others speculate that it can be transmitted through contact with infected stool or vomit. This can occur in one of the two ways:
- You either eat contaminated or undercooked food with H. pylori
- Consume water infected with this bug
Detecting H. pylori Infection – The Symptoms
As mentioned before, most people harboring H. pylori in their gut do not develop symptoms. However, with time, they often develop other diseases like peptic ulcers, leading to the following symptoms:
- A dull/burning pain in the stomach especially before having food
- Unexplained weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Excessive fatigue
- Discomfort in the abdomen
If you have been diagnosed with an H. pylori infection and develop the following symptoms, consider it a medical emergency and get in touch with a doctor:
- Blood in stool
- Trouble swallowing
- Dark-colored vomitus or feces
H. pylori Risk Factors
Children, in general, are more likely to catch an H. pylori infection, mainly due to poor hygienic measures. Additionally, you are more prone to getting infected with this bug if you:
- Are living in a developing country
- Share a small living place with multiple roommates (overcrowding)
- Do not have access to clean water
- Have been in contact with or share a house with people suffering from H. pylori
H. pylori Diagnosis
If you have been struggling with digestive issues, a doctor may recommend getting tested for H. pylori infection. To accomplish this, there are several ways.
This includes taking a sample of your blood from a vein and analyzing it for antibodies to H. pylori bug.
This involves analyzing a sample of your stool to check for the H. pylori antigen.
This test involves breathing into a collection bag twice. Between the two breathing sessions, you will be required to consume a harmless liquid or pill. The two samples of breath are then analyzed to check the levels of carbon dioxide. Any abnormality in these levels indicates the presence of H. pylori infection.
This is the ultimate and the definitive diagnostic test for H. pylori and is usually considered when all other tests have provided inconclusive results. Endoscopy involves taking a closer look at different parts of the gut with a camera. The camera is inserted through the mouth up to the duodenum and the images it records are visualized on an attached monitor. In some cases, the doctor may take a sample of tissue to perform a biopsy and rule out cancer.
Eradicating H. pylori Infection
Most cases of H. pylori do not require any treatment, particularly if they are asymptomatic. However, people with uncomfortable symptoms need a combination of the following drugs:
- An antibiotic to kill the bug (for example amoxicillin or clarithromycin)
- A proton-pump inhibitor to reduce the stomach acid
The above-mentioned combination has to be taken for 14 days.
The treatment may slightly vary depending on factors like previous medical history and drug allergies. Once the treatment course is finished, patients are called for a follow-up to confirm if H. pylori has been completely eradicated. If not, the treatment regimen is repeated and may be altered according to individual cases.
Complications of H. pylori
While H. pylori infection is mostly asymptomatic, it can lead to serious complications like:
- Obstruction of the gut at any point, blocking the food from leaving your stomach.
- Internal bleeding due to rupture of a blood vessel due to ulcers.
- Peritonitis i.e. infection of the peritoneum due to a ruptured peptic ulcer and spread of the bug throughout the body.
- Perforation of the stomach wall.
The Role of Food - The H. pylori Diet
Whether or not you need medical treatment to eradicate H. pylori, following a healthy diet can improve your health and reduce the risk of encountering any uncomfortable digestive symptoms. As a part of this H. pylori diet, there are certain foods to eat and avoid to make sure that you do not suffer from unnecessary vomiting, nausea, belching, or bloating. These foods are mentioned below briefly.
What To Eat
1. Probiotics: These can be found in foods like kefir and yogurt. However, if you are unable to consume these products, consider taking a supplement after consulting with a doctor. Probiotics refer to the good bacteria that live inside the gut and protect the body from harmful bacterial species while fighting common digestive ailments.
2. Omega fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have been known to reduce inflammation in the stomach while halting the growth of H. pylori. These good fats are abundantly present in natural foods, like carrot seeds, olive oil, grapefruit seed oil, and fish oil.
3. Fruits: Consume non-acidic fruit as you continue with the H. pylori medication regimen. Some of these fruits, such as blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, can even stop the growth of this bacterium.
4. Vegetables: Certain veggies, including cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, contain isothiocyanates that not only fight H. pylori but also prevent cancer. Consumption of these veggies also reduces stomach pain.
5. Meat and fish: Protein with low-fat content, such as fish and white meats, can provide nutrition to the body without causing any digestive distress. To prepare these meats, consider boiling them in salty water with a bay leaf to improve taste without making them secrete acid in the stomach. For grilling fish, use water or olive oil.
What To Avoid
During the treatment, it is important to avoid certain foods that may irritate your stomach or increase acid production. These foods include:
· Black tea, coffee, and chocolate: These food items contain caffeine that increases gastric juice secretion and increases stomach movement.
· Sodas and fizzy drinks: These beverages distend the stomach, cause acid reflux, and induce pain.
· Alcoholic beverages: These drinks cause inflammation of the stomach.
· Spicy and peppery food: These include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, garlic, stock cubes and garlic sauce.
· Sour fruit: These include pineapple, orange, and lemon as they cause heartburn and stomach pain.
· Fatty meats: They are loaded with fat that interrupts digestion and slows down the movement of food within the stomach.
· Canned food and processed meat: These food items include lots of chemicals and preservatives with a tendency to irritate the stomach, increase inflammation, and worsen the symptoms.
Try drinking more water every day to regulate the movement of food.
With a great portion of the world silently harboring H. pylori in their stomach, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with this disease and its common symptoms. Despite being asymptomatic in most cases, the infection has a tendency to complicate and cause life-threatening issues. However, timely diagnosis and management has great prognosis with complete healing.