H pylori bacteria live in the lining of stomach of approximately two thirds of the world's population 1 so the chances are you already have this free loader living with in you.
But panic not. Remember, mankind (and most of our primate relatives) have carried this bacteria in our stomachs for most of our existence and usually we rub along together without any problems.
H pylori causes stomach ulcers in some people and is suspected of occasionally causing stomach cancers.
They are Gram-negative bacteria which simply means they don't retain the dye in their cell walls in one of the tests scientists use to identify bacteria. Much more importantly, Gram-negative bacteria often cause inflammation.
They have flagella which are whip-like tails which propel them forward (the same way sperm move) and makes them very mobile. Their spiral shape also assists their ability to burrow into the lining of the stomach.
The helicobacter pylori bacteria is microaerophilic which means it needs oxygen but it needs it at a lower rate than is found in the atmosphere.
There are over 500 different strains of the h pylori bacteria 2with different strains being more common in people from different parts of the world.
This bacterium can cause infections in the human stomach that can last for decades. An infected person may have an estimated 104 to 107 H pylori colony forming units per gram of gastric mucus.3
Some strains have what is called the cag pathogenicity island and this leads to more severe stomach injury.5
It is believed that h pylori bacteria have been with mankind since our very earliest days and h pylori antigens have been found in the feces of South American mummies dating back 1700 years.4
It is thought to enter our bodies through our mouth and sets up home in the stomach. The acidity of our gastric juices usually makes this a fairly hostile place for most bacteria but Helicobacter pylori is able to make a low acid buffer zone around itself.
By the age of 10 years, more than 80% of children in developing countries will be carrying h pylori bacteria in their stomach.3
There are a number of different strains of the helicobacter pylori bacteria and it is the interaction between the different stains and each individual's immune system that makes for such a wide difference in symptoms.
Whilst many of us carry h pylori bacteria in our stomach, in only a few people does it cause problems or show symptoms.
It has been shown that fermented milk-based probiotic preparations eg yogurt, improve H. pylori bacteria eradication rates by approximately 5-15%.6
Note that it talks of improving eradication. None of the research suggests that probiotics alone will cure you.
The "triple therapy" which consists of taking 2 different antibiotics plus proton pump inhibitor is an effective cure with a 90% success rate8. However, not everyone can afford it and side effects can be dramamtic with possible nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches and body aches. Taking antibiotics long term is never good for the human body.
This is where probiotics come in. Unfortunately much of the reasearch (as you can see below) talks about particular strains and gives no clue as to whether there are any products avialable that contain that strain.
One commercially available yougrt that does contain a strain used in some of the studies (L casei DN 114 001) is the yogurt Danactive which you can buy at Walmart and most stores.
Latest research shows that high dietary intake of probiotic bacteria, particularly Lactobacillus, and antioxidants, mainly vitamin C from fruit and vegetables, might decrease the risk of H pylori re-infection.
The findings of one 2007 trial stated: "Our review suggests that supplementation with probiotics could be effective in increasing eradication rates of anti-H. pylori therapy, and could be considered helpful for patients with eradication failure. Furthermore, probiotics show a positive impact on H. pylori therapy-related side effects."7
So it does seem as if anyone with the h pylori bacteria would benefit from eating more yogurt or a fermented dairy drink, a a good multi probiotic and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
A study in 2010 found that yogurt containing a Bifidobacteria performed only slightly better than the control although it did decrease the cases of stomatitis and constipation - which is good but not what we're looking for.
Because the rate of infection has decreased whilst complaints such as reflux esophagitis have increased, some experts believe that this infection may actually protect us from things like reflux esophagitis. This theory has yet to be proven either way.
1. Garza-Gonzalez E, Bocanegra-Garcia V, Bosques-Padilla FJ, Flores-Gutierrez JP, Moreno F, Perez-Perez GI. mRNA levels of TLR4 and TLR5 are independent of H pylori. World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Sep 14;14(34):5306-10.
2. Dangeruta Kersulyte, Asish K. Mukhopadhyay, Billie Velapatino, WanWen Su, ZhiJun Pan, Claudia Garcia, Virginia Hernandez, Yanet Valdez, Rajesh S. Mistry, Robert H. Gilman, Yuan Yuan, Hua Gao, Teresa Alarcon, Manuel Lopez-Brea, G. Balakrish Nair, Abhijit Chowdhury, Simanti Datta, Mutsunori Shirai, Teruko Nakazawa, Reidwaan Ally, Isidore Segal, Benjamin C. Y. Wong, S. K. Lam, Farzad O. Olfat, Thomas Borén, Lars Engstrand, Olga Torres, Roberto Schneider, Julian E. Thomas, Steven Czinn, and Douglas E. Berg. Differences in Genotypes of Helicobacter pylori from Different Human Populations. J Bacteriol. 2000 June; 182(11): 3210-3218.
3. Blaser MJ. Helicobacters are indigenous to the human stomach: duodenal ulceration is due to changes in gastric microecology in the modern era. Gut 1998;43:721?727.
4. Correa P, Willis D, Allison MJ, et al. Helicobacter pylori in pre-Columbian mummies. Gastroenterology 1998;114(suppl 4):A956.
5. Peek RM Jr, Crabtree JE. Helicobacter infection and gastric neoplasia. J Pathol. 2006 Jan;208(2):233-48
6. Sachdeva A, Nagpal J. Effect of fermented milk-based probiotic preparations on Helicobacter pylori eradication: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Jan;21(1):45-53.
7. Tong JL, Ran ZH, Shen J, Zhang CX, Xiao SD. Meta-analysis: the effect of supplementation with probiotics on eradication rates and adverse events during Helicobacter pylori eradication therapy. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jan 15;25(2):155-68.
8. Drahoslava Lesbros-Pantoflickova, Irene Corthesy-Theulaz and Andre L. Blum. Helicobacter pylori and Probiotics. The American Society for Nutrition J. Nutr. 137:812S-818S, March 2007.
9. Huffnagle Gary B PhD. The Probiotics Revolution. Bantam Books 2008.