H. pylori, Hormones and Your Gut Health
What is H. pylori?
Helicobacter pylori, previously known as Campylobacter pylori, is a Gram-negative, microaerophilic bacterium usually found in the stomach. It was identified in 1982 by Australian scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who made the link between H. pylori and gastric ulcers, a condition not previously associated with GI microbial disease.
H. pylori is the most common chronic bacterial pathogen in humans. Statistics show that more than 50% of the world’s population is infected with this potent bacteria. Rates of infection increase with age, and the prevalence of infection rises 1% with every year of life. Therefore, we can expect that approximately 80% of 80 year-olds are infected with H. pylori. With the incidence of H. pylori infections increasing with age, it follows that hypochlorhydria (low hydrochloric acid) also increases with age, given our understanding that the bacteria prefers low acid conditions.
Up to 85% of people infected with H. pylori never experience symptoms or complications. Acute infection may present with abdominal pain, nausea, and/or irritable bowel symptoms. Bloating, belching, vomiting, and sometimes black stools develop with chronic infection. Bleeding in the upper GI tract causes black stool, and a chronic bleed can contribute to anemia with weakness and fatigue. When a person is symptomatic, the pain of H. pylori is usually felt when the stomach is empty, between meals, and especially early in the morning.
Individuals infected with H. pylori have a 10-20% lifetime risk of developing peptic ulcers and a 1-2% risk of acquiring stomach cancer. There have also been risks identified with the development of colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer.
The Evasive Colonizing Techniques of H. pylori
To avoid the acidic environment of the stomach, H. pylori uses its flagella to burrow into the mucus lining of the stomach. By doing this, it can reach the epithelial cells underneath, where the environment is less acidic. H. pylori is able to sense the pH gradient in the mucus and move into friendlier territory for its survival. This is called chemotaxis. This also allows the bacteria to be excluded from being swept away into the lumen of the stomach by the natural actions of mucus and lymph. In addition to using chemotaxis to avoid areas of low pH, H. pylori also neutralizes the acid in its environment by producing large amounts of urease, which breaks down the urea present in the stomach to produce the elements of carbon dioxide and ammonia. Many people will experience high-ammonia symptoms with H. pylori, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, muscle weakness, irritability, pain, nausea, etc. These are survival mechanisms of H. pylori which make it quite difficult to detect in many conventional stool tests. At True Nature, we use a PCR assay stool test which detects the presence of the bacteria by its genetic coding rather than a required presence in the stool sample itself. This is key to proper identification, as many people who are infected with H. pylori go undiagnosed due to a “negative” result on a stool sample. Successful identification is the first step in a process that will truly eradicate this problematic pathogen.
H. pylori and Food
The fermentation of malabsorbed carbohydrates in the gut produces hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is the preferred energy source for H. pylori. Elevated hydrogen gases are also associated with other nasty bugs such as Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter jejuni. Sugars (including fructose), starches, and some fibrous carbohydrates contribute to this fermentation and gas production.
Other important considerations are food sensitivities and leaky gut syndrome. A mucosal barrier that is damaged by autoimmune reactions to foods is a very vulnerable place for pathogens to enter and set up a colony. The stomach is designed to be a closed system, ready and able to attack pathogens as they enter, with sufficient healthy bacteria as well as stomach acid. When this environment is opened in leaky gut conditions, illness risks increase dramatically.
H. pylori and Virulence Factor
While further study is needed to confirm risk factors and complications of H. pylori expression, there are indications that certain genetic virulence factors may contribute to more severe inflammatory responses and more pronounced pathological changes in some individuals.
When a person has H. pylori, the strain diversity increases over time. The presence of any virulence factor increases the potential for symptoms and disease. The average person with HP has 2.5 different strains. Each strain will have its own set (or not) of virulence factors. A bacteria like H. pylori can double in amount every 1-2 hours. So over a short period of time, levels can increase dramatically.
With lower amounts of the bacteria in the digestive tract, the dilution occurring as they pass through the stomach and 2700 grams of fecal matter can create difficulty with detecting both the bacteria and their virulence factors. The PCR assay test used at True Nature resolves this challenge through the detection of their genetic codes.
H. pylori, Hormones and Neurotransmission
Another area of great interest surrounding H. pylori is the advancement in understanding of negative influences of steroidal hormones on the infection. A scholarly paper published in 2011 by Hirofumi Shimomura, following extensive research, showed that pregnenolone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DEA), epiandrosterone (EA) and estrone (E1) are all absorbed into the lipid membrane of H. pylori. As steroids, they have the capacity to strengthen and reinforce the membrane barrier and increase its resistance to treatment/eradication. The reinforced barrier creates resistance of H. pylori to phosphatidylcholines, a group of phospholipids that includes linoleic and/or arachidonic acid. These are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that confer antibacterial actions which are fatal to the typically steroid-free H. pylori membrane. Despite its low abundance, phosphatidyl serine in the cell membrane plays key roles in various phenomena such as the coagulation cascade, clearance of apoptotic cells, and recruitment of signaling molecules. Phosphatidyl serine also localizes in endocytic organelles which are responsible for “cell drinking” and “cell eating”, two forms of moving nutrients into cells by the creation of vacuoles. Also important to note is that phospholipid molecules such as phosphatidyl serine have both polar and non-polar lipid regions, and because of this, can have difficulty finding stability to begin with. The phosphate portion of the molecule seeks water, while the lipid portion seeks oil. Between the innate instability and the blockage of phosphatidyl serine by steroidal hormones, these endocytic cellular nutrition functions become impaired.
In opposition to DEA, EA and pregnenolone, estradiol (E2), androstenedione, and progesterone are harmful for the survival of H. pylori. Progesterone exhibits the most effective antibacterial action against H pylori. Progesterone inhibits the absorption of free-cholesterol by H. pylori and conversely, high levels of free-cholesterol inhibit the antibacterial actions of progesterone. These two hormones appear to bind to identical sites on the bacteria and therefore can obstruct each other’s effects.
One study indicates that licorice root may positively impact the treatment of H. pylori. Licorice is an adaptogenic herb which supports adrenal function and hormone balance. This is more proof that hormones and our guts are intimately connected. Further information indicates that there are likely effects on the brain-gut axis by H. pylori. These may arise from a direct neurotoxic effect, activation of inflammatory processes in nerves and micronutrient deficiency. Intermediate effects of chronic H. pylori infection on brain-gut axis function have been clinically observed as: (1) the alteration of feeding patterns; (2) cognitive and memory dysfunction, increased vulnerability to stress and anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors.
What all of this means for a person infected with H. pylori is that the infection does not exist in isolation of the body’s complex metabolic functions. It is not a simple scenario of a gut infection that is easily eradicated with conventional therapies. The infection burrows deep into the lining of the gut where antibiotics may not reach it, and is impacted by adrenal and liver health/balance. Other factors such as poor cholesterol synthesis and hormone toxicity can alter the natural balances and strategies employed by a healthy body in attacking an infection such as H. pylori.
H. pylori and Aluminum
Research shows that aluminum enhances inflammation and reduces healing capacity in the mucosal barrier. Aluminum is a widespread light metal in our environment and its influences are increasing as its presence and usage increases. Many current day industries use and/or spread large amounts of aluminum, and its presence in our air and water is on the rise. These include transportation, construction, and electrical manufacturing.
With both enhanced inflammatory responses and lowered barrier healing responses, the body is at risk for other diseases associated with leaky gut and lowered immunity. It is critical to assess aluminum (and heavy metal) burdens when investigating bacterial infections such as H. pylori. Again, at True Nature, we have effective ways of doing this and effective ways of working with toxicity and poor excretion patterns.
H. pylori and Health Management
In summation, H. pylori is a complex pathogen capable of derailing proper nourishment and increasing other disease risks including GI cancers. A comprehensive understanding and investigation of the body’s metabolic processes and needs is highly advised. Checks and cross-checks with influences and counter-influences are necessary. Some examples of this are:
Is the diet of the infected person appropriate for their needs? Are there sufficient foods to stimulate acid production? Is the liver being nourished by the individual’s diet?
Are there dietary and/or toxin stressors adding to pathogen hosting and/or poor gut membrane integrity?
Is the liver producing adequate enzymes for adrenal hormone production?
Are cholesterol and other steroid hormone levels normal and balanced? Are there excesses and imbalances that could be altering the cell membrane integrity? What is the source of the inflammation causing such imbalances?
What role is chronic stress playing in the expression of immune and detoxification processes in the body?
Working with a practitioner who understands the roles of the hormones and glands in addition to the GI tract is important to recovery and long-term success. Please contact me at Julie@truenaturehealthconsulting for more information and/or investigation of your individual health.