By Nieske Zabriskie, ND
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a spiral-shaped bacterium that has the ability to withstand the highly acidic environment of the stomach. It can adhere to the lining of the stomach and cause damage, although it may not always cause symptoms in affected individuals. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori. In the United States, it is estimated that 20 percent of people under 40 years old and half of those over 60 years are infected.1 Additionally, research has found that many children are infected. Approximately 8 percent of children age one to three years old test positive for antibodies to H. pylori. They also found that by age 18-23 years, 24.5 percent of individuals were infected.2
It is well established that H. pylori causes gastrointestinal disease. In fact, H. pylori causes more than 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and more than 80 percent of stomach ulcers.3 H. pylori also causes gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, which can lead to chronic inflammation or loss of function of the cells (atrophic gastritis). Furthermore, individuals with this infection have a 2-6-fold increased risk of developing mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma and stomach cancer compared to uninfected individuals.4
Although H. pylori infects the stomach, it has been shown to play a role in the development of numerous non-gastrointestinal diseases. Researchers suggest that H. pylori induces systemic inflammation as well as decreases the absorption of nutrients, thereby increasing the risk of several diseases. Some of the conditions associated with H. pylori infection include cardiovascular disease, stroke, anemia, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, rosacea, eczema, chronic hives, diabetes, thyroid disease and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
One of the most interesting associations with H. pylori infection is the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that H. pylori antibodies were significantly higher in both the serum and cerebral spinal fluid in patients with Alzheimer’s disease compared to age-matched subjects with normal cognition. Additionally, this study showed that increasing severity of cognitive dysfunction correlated to increasing levels of H. pylori antibodies in the cerebral spinal fluid.5 In another study, researchers found H. pylori antibodies in 88 percent of Alzheimer’s patients compared to only 46.7 percent of the control subjects. Furthermore, this study found that successful eradication treatment of H. pylori in Alzheimer’s patients resulted in improvement in cognitive and functional ability over the two-year follow-up period.6
Several cardiovascular diseases are associated with H. pylori infections. One study found that eradication treatment of H. pylori increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), and decreased the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen, which are associated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk.7 Research has shown that the presence of H. pylori antibodies were significantly more frequent in individuals with coronary artery disease (CAD) compared to healthy control subjects. In fact, the presence of antibodies was nearly double in the subjects with CAD compared to the control group, which also correlated to increased CRP levels.8 Similarly, another study showed that H. pylori infection was related to increased arterial stiffness and increased systolic blood pressure in diabetic subjects.9
Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by recurrent episodes of facial flushing, redness, small red bumps or pimples, and dilated blood vessels. One study showed that 88 percent of subjects with rosacea had evidence of H. pylori infection. The researchers also demonstrated that H. pylori eradication resulted in the disappearance or significant reduction in rosacea in 51 of 60 subjects within 2-4 weeks.10 Other skin conditions associated with H. pylori infection include psoriasis,11 chronic urticaria (hives), prurigo chronica multiformis, pruritus cutaneus and eczema nummulare. Eradication treatment in subjects with these skin conditions showed significant improvement in skin symptoms.12
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. One study showed that Helicobacter pylori was present in 88 percent of glaucoma cases compared to 47 percent of age-matched control subjects. In the subjects with successful H. pylori eradication, mean intraocular pressure and mean visual field parameters significantly improved.13 Similarly, another study found that H. pylori antibodies were significantly elevated in the serum and aqueous humor (the thick fluid within the eye) in subjects with glaucoma compared to subjects with cataracts. Additionally, the researchers found that the levels of H. pylori antibodies in the aqueous humor correlate to the severity of glaucoma-related damage in individuals with primary open-angle glaucoma.14
Studies suggest that H. pylori infection is associated with blood disorders such as iron-deficiency anemia and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). Research has shown that in patients with unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type of anemia, approximately 50 percent have evidence of active H. pylori infection.15 Other research has shown that H. pylori positive cases were associated with a decrease in ferritin, a measurement of iron storage, and were 2.7 times more likely to develop anemia than those testing negative for infection.16 Substantial research also indicates that H. pylori infection is associated with ITP, which is a disease of low platelet levels with no known cause. H. pylori infection was found in 63.3 percent of patients with ITP, and the presence of H. pylori increased the risk of developing ITP by 2.25 times.17 Furthermore, research has shown that platelet counts improve in ITP patients that undergo successful H. pylori eradication treatment.18
Some researchers suggest that H. pylori infection plays a role in several endocrine disorders such as autoimmune thyroid diseases, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and primary hyperparathyroidism.19 One study found that 75.6 percent of subjects with type 2 diabetes had H. pylori infections, compared to only 46 percent of control subjects.20 A similar study showed that there was a higher prevalence of H. pylori infection both in obese and in diabetic patients compared to control subjects, and prevalence became still higher in obese patients with impaired glucose tolerance.21 Another study showed that patients with autoimmune thyroid disease had significantly increased prevalence of H. pylori compared to healthy controls.22
Natural Solutions for H. Pylori Infections
Eradication of H. pylori can improve numerous conditions, and natural strategies exist to help eradicate this harmful organism. The resin of Pistacia lentiscus, known as mastic gum (found in CeaseFire®), has been studied in patients with gastritis, ulcers, and H. pylori infection. Studies indicate that mastic gum kills 50-90 percent of H. pylori, depending on concentration.23 Additional research has demonstrated that mastic gum reduces H. pylori colonization by 30-fold.24 One recently published clinical trial tested the efficacy of mastic gum supplementation in patients with dyspepsia (indigestion and stomach pain). Subjects received mastic gum at a dose of 350 mg three times daily or placebo for 3 weeks. The results showed that in the subjects receiving mastic gum, 77 percent reported significant improvement in symptoms, including stomach pain and heartburn, compared to 40 percent in the placebo group.25 Other clinical trials have shown that mastic gum supplementation induced symptomatic relief in 80 percent of patients with duodenal ulcers, and 70 percent of subjects had confirmed healing using endoscopy.26
Infection with H. pylori is associated with increased risk of numerous diseases, likely through the induction of systemic inflammation. Eradication of H. pylori is an important step in reducing symptoms related to these diseases. Mastic gum is a natural product that has shown efficacy against H. pylori and related symptoms.