Helicobacter Pylori, also known as H. Pylori for short, is not actually a disease but a bacterium that can be found in the digestive tract and stomach. Small amounts of this bacteria can be found in most humans and even some animals, however when found in large amounts it can negatively impact digestion, be associated with acid reflux, damage intestinal tissue, be linked to ulcers and even stomach cancer.
Helicobacter Pylori Disease and Autoimmune Disease
Based on how H. Pylori negatively impacts the digestive tract, there can certainly be a correlation Helicobacter Pylori and Autoimmune Disease.
As discussed on our How to Treat Autoimmune Diseases article, autoimmune conditions express themselves when leaky gut is present in an individual. The more inflamed the digestive tract is the more overwhelmed the immune system becomes, and an autoimmune disease will flare up.
H. Pylori contributes to a variety of inflammatory pathways within the gut making it a prime autoimmune trigger suspect and leaky gut contributor.
Dr. Isabella Wentz is well-known for her research linking H. Pylori to Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease, two different thyroid autoimmune conditions. As Dr. Wentz mentions in her research, “antibodies produced in response to H. Pylori can cross-react with many normal tissue antigens, such as gastric cells and even thyroid tissue.”
Based on molecular mimicry, the production of these antibodies in response to H. Pylori can cause the body to unintentionally attack healthy tissues that resemble the cellular structure of H. Pylori. Attacking healthy tissue is the direct mechanism by which an autoimmune disease works.
Additionally, since H. Pylori lowers stomach acid and digestive ability, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies that lower the immune system’s ability to function making it more susceptible to autoimmunity and other health conditions.
H. Pylori Symptoms
There are a wide range of H. Pylori overgrowth symptoms. Some of the more obvious ones can include but are not limited to:
- Stomach aches, pains or burning sensations
- Worsening stomach pain on an empty stomach
- Nausea or frequent burping
- Loss of appetite and bloating
- Unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in stool
- Peptic ulcers
Some of the less obvious ones can include but are not limited to:
- Mid-back pain
- Acid reflux, heartburn or GERD
- Bad breath
More About Helicobacter Pylori Disease
H. Pylori bacteria makes an enzyme called ureas that makes your stomach less acidic, thus lowering your digestive ability. In simple terms, H. Pylori essentially feeds on stomach acid and negatively impacts your ability to digest food, supplement or other nutrients well.
According to the CDC, H. Pylori is estimated to infect approximately 50% of the world, being as high as 80-90% in some developing countries and about 35-40% in the United States. The prevalence is so common because of how easily it can be transmitted. It can be passed through direct contact with saliva (i.e. kissing, sharing drinks or food), vomit, fecal matter or contaminated food and water.
For these transmission reasons, it can also be common to have reoccurring infections, especially within members of a household who are coming in contact with each other’s saliva.
A healthy immune system and microbiome can protect the digestive tract and body from H. Pylori’s negative effects. Some would say H. Pylori in low levels is even part of the body’s natural eco-system.
When considering if H. Pylori is problematic, it’s important to look closely for correlating symptoms and to test the amount of growth to assess its pathogenic (infectious) state.
H. Pylori Testing Options:
There are a few different ways to test for H. Pylori. Each type of test has its own pros and cons. If you test negative with one type of test but have H. Pylori symptoms or concerns it would be beneficial to try a different type of test.
H Pylori Test Breath
There is an H. Pylori Breath Test you can do. This usually involves breathing into a balloon-like bag. This type of test is looking for the amount of carbon dioxide you produce before and after ingesting a solution that contains urea (the enzyme that H. Pylori produces). False negatives can occur if you’re taking certain medications.
H Pylori Stool Test
You can also do an H. Pylori stool test. There are two types of stool tests you can take; a microscopy and PCR test. Microscopy stool tests typically require multiple days of samples and need to be shipped swiftly in a cool environment to prevent the bacteria from dying before it reaches the lab to be assessed in a petri dish under a microscope.
PCR stool tests typically only require a single-day sample and have less precautions around shipping and temperature since the analysis is looking for genetic data.
You can do an H. Pylori blood test. However, these tend to be less accurate, so a stool or breath test is the best starting point.
And lastly, you can do a biopsy, but this is a more invasive testing method so again the stool and breath test are your best bet.
H. Pylori Treatment
The first question you must ask yourself regarding H. Pylori treatment is, what makes you a good host for this bacterium?
A healthy body and immune system is designed to keep bad bacteria under control so when they overgrow you have to explore what has weakened the immune system allowing this to happen.
Depending on the severity of infection and your symptoms, you may be able to get H. Pylori under control naturally with an anti-inflammatory diet, good quality sleep, stress reduction and herbal supplements.
Some of the best supplements to assist in getting H. Pylori under control are:
- A high-quality probiotic
- Glycyrrhizin (Licorice)
- Mastic Gum
- Matula Tea
- Oil of Oregano
- Focusing on healing your gut and boosting your immune system also aids in the fight against H. Pylori infections, which can also be accomplished through changes in diet, lifestyle, and supplementation.
- Alternatively, some may choose antibiotics to address H. Pylori, or are prescribed them without knowing the other options. In these cases, remember that antibiotics can also wipe out beneficial bacteria which disarms the immune system’s capacity to fight off other bad bacteria, colds, flus and infections.
- Overuse of antibiotics has also been linked to leaky gut and autoimmune conditions.
- It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider on which course of treatment is right for you, and know it’s always ok to get multiple opinions on the matter.
Diet for H Pylori
An anti-inflammatory diet is generally the best diet for H. Pylori. This means avoiding the top most inflammatory foods such as:
As an Autoimmune Sister, you may want to take it one step further by doing an Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet, or at least a modified version of what that also omits:
- All grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Nightshade vegetables
Eating an anti-inflammatory type of diet allows the digestive tract to heal and the immune system to strengthen, both of which are necessary to treat H. Pylori.
There are also certain foods that can aid in reducing inflammation, boosting beneficial bacteria, and fighting off H. Pylori such as:
- Meat, fish and healthy fats high in Omega-3 and Omega-6
- Fermented foods high in naturally occurring probiotics
- Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for isothiocyanates
A diet low in sugar and carbs, and higher in fat and protein can also be beneficial when addressing H. Pylori since bacteria loves to feed on sugar! Plus, a lower carb and sugar diet helps to regulate blood sugar and cortisol hormone to manage inflammation better.
Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) Supplementation and H. Pylori
If you have an H. Pylori problem, it’s important to avoid supplementing with Hydrochloric Acid and bitters. Both supplements increase stomach acid and feed H. Pylori. If you need digestive support, there are a wide range of digestive enzymes to consider that don’t contain HCL or bitters. Consult with your healthcare professional to decide which one is best for you.
Other H. Pylori Treatment Considerations
Since H. Pylori can be exchanged via saliva it’s important to consider this when treating to prevent reoccurrence.
If you have a partner, you may want to ask your partner to get tested or undergo treatment with you as well so that you don’t swap H. Pylori back and forth.
Your toothbrush could be a source of contamination. During treatment it’s wise to swap out your toothbrush every couple of weeks during treatment to prevent re-infection.
Stress is a huge factor when it comes to H. Pylori. Stress triggers negative bio-chemical creation in the body, the production of biofilm that protects bacteria and suppresses the immune system.
Implementing a daily de-stressing routine and looking for ways to reduce your overall stress load will greatly increase your ability to eradicate H. Pylori and keep it away for good.
Lowering your stress load will also help you manage your autoimmune condition better too!