Although there are many bacteria and other microflora which reside in the digestive tract, there is only one known to live comfortably in the acidic area of the stomach and that is H pylori (Helicobacter pylori). Although many things have been learned in recent years about this particular bug there is still much to know and it intrigues both health professionals and scientists on many levels.
Not only has H Pylori now been attributed to causing some stomach and duodenal ulcers, but it is also implicated in a condition called gastric atrophy. This is where the cells lining the stomach can be paralyzed or be irreparably damaged causing the sufferer many digestive problems.
Although it used to be considered that high acidity of the gastric acid, usually together with stress, resulted in ulcers, H pylori is now thought to be the causative factor. However only a small proportion of people infected with the bacteria will actually develop ulcers and the largest proportion, around 80 per cent, will remain asymptomatic.
The reason this particular bacteria can survive in the acid environment of the stomach is that it releases a substance which neutralizes the acid around it and makes the environment conducive to survival. The bacteria also manage to avoid the acid because they bury into the walls of the stomach and literally hide away from it. The shape of the bacteria, which is known as helical, has a distinctly corkscrew appearance and it has been suggested that this shape has evolved over time to allow the bug to make the holes in the lining of its environment. It’s shape is literally a survival mechanism.
Although it is most commonly known for existing in the stomach, H pylori is also found in the duodenum or upper end of the digestive tract. This is the area of the intestine which is closest to the stomach and which also has a more acidic pH which is conducive to this resilient bacteria.
Because it is found in both the stomach and the duodenum and these are the areas where ulcers most commonly occur, then the relationship between illness and organism seems conclusive.
How To Test and Diagnose H Pylori
Because the symptoms of H pylori can be indicative of many other conditions patients can often suffer for long periods without testing being carried out. However this situation is more prevalent relating to digestive distress and gastric inflammation rather than ulcers because in the last few decades H pylori has been widely recognized as being responsible for this particular issue.
The most common test used is a blood assay but this method of diagnosis is open to being skewed by several mitigating factors including any recent antibiotic treatments. Unfortunately it is also unable to establish if an infestation of H pylori has also been cleared so often clinicians have to resort to other methods to establish if treatment has been successful.
Breath tests similar to those used in other bacterial infestations are commonly used to establish not only if H pylori is evident prior to treatment but also to establish if it has been eradicated.
Stool samples often return the most accurate results when it comes to non-invasive tests for H pylori. However the patient will be required to abstain from certain medications, foods and dietary supplements sometimes for as long as 2 weeks prior to the samples being taken.
Endoscopy is the most invasive test, and is often only used as a last resort. It is though extremely accurate. Most patients and their clinicians will however often only resort to this test when all other assays have failed to confirm H pylori infection and yet the patient is still symptomatic.
Preventing H pylori How to prevent from getting it
H pylori is present everywhere in the environment and the current school of thought recommends normal hygiene procedures such as washing hands before eating and after toileting. In unfamiliar environments again standard hygiene practices should be employed by avoiding using untreated water for drinking, washing food or brushing teeth.
H pylori is also known to be transferred via body fluids such as saliva. If you know you are infected or are aware someone else is, then refrain from exchanging fluids until the bacteria has been eradicated. It is also sensible in these circumstances to ensure that articles such as toothbrushes and other objects relating to personal hygiene are kept from coming into contact with others.
There are also several indications that our lifestyles may contribute to providing an environment which is conducive to H pylori. Although we now understand ulcers are not caused by high stomach acid, what we do know is that ulcers often exist in people who are emotionally stressed. Taking time out to eat in a relaxed manner, chewing food well, relaxing after a meal and avoiding being stressed out by our daily activities all appear to help our digestive tract produce the correct amount of acids and enzymes that it should – and which H pylori dislike.
Processed foods contain many compounds which either lack nutrition or contain ingredients which are conducive to the survival of pathogenic bacteria of all types. Eating more fresh, organic produce and ensuring it is washed and prepared properly all help in preventing and eradicating H pylori.
Taking more time out not only to eat food, but also to prepare food which is healthy, all combine to aid digestion and help ensure the environment of the stomach and digestive tract are places where H pylori simply don’t want to live.