H.pylori & Me – The Prequel
I think I may have H.pylori. If I do have it, it’s OK – I have a plan.
Why I say “I think”: Since last Wednesday night, I have been having an intermittent mild burning sensation just below my rib cage. It comes and goes, mostly acting up an hour or so after I’ve eaten something it doesn’t like. It doesn’t do it with everything I eat or drink and still allows me to basically go about my normal day, but I am used to eating whenever and whatever I like. (Usually I eat healthfully but I do eat “bad things” sometimes too.) There has also been some mild, intermittent stomach pain in my lower abdomen and some gas. I still have my appetite, which is actually a shame as I’m being so cautious about what I put into my stomach that it’s resulted in my not putting in much at all. I have lost weight since I’ve been more cautious about what and how much food I put into my body at once, but I haven’t experienced the dramatic weight loss or other frightening symptoms others have reported. Overall it would seem that my case is mild, at least thus far. My allopathic doctor diagnosed me with gastritis on Thursday evening, and now I’m waiting for the blood work to come back to see whether or not I have H.pylori.
I suspect, even though there are other causes of gastritis, that it’s H.pylori because I was doing absolutely nothing differently and the symptoms came on overnight. I actually suspect that I contracted it from a kabob restaurant my boyfriend and I tried for the first time the day before my symptoms came on. (Damn kabobs.) I’ve never had symptoms like this before. I don’t drink overmuch, I don’t smoke, I’m not pregnant, I work out (running and yoga), and I eat relatively healthfully most of the time. I’m also 25 years old. All of this leads me to believe that H.pylori, which causes 80% of gastric ulcers, is the culprit.
A little more about H.pylori: It’s estimated (depending on which study you read) that 30 to 50% of the world’s population has this freeloader riding around in their gut. For the majority of people who have it – around 85% – there are no symptoms or ill effects. For the remaining population there are peptic and gastric ulcers, gastritis (which I have), bloating, belching, indigestion, and all manner of other unattractive stomach discomfort. Certain strains of this nasty bug have been linked to gastric cancer, though it’s estimated that only 1 to 2% of people with H.pylori will get cancer, and that it will take years of having H.pylori to progress that far. (Don’t panic! Stress causes the acid in your stomach to increase, which may worsen your symptoms. Take a deep breath – there’s good news coming in this post.)
The resistance of H.pylori to antibiotics has skyrocketed over the past 30 years. The bug was first discovered in the mid-1980s, though it has been with us as a species for millennia. In the 1990s, the go-to cure for H.pylori was what is popularly referred to as triple therapy: the combination of a PPI (proton pump inhibitor, which basically turns off the stomach acid pumps to allow the lining of the stomach to heal) and two antibiotics to kill the bug. When this therapy first came into practice it had a 97% success rate.
In the intervening years bacteria has evolved to defend itself against antibiotics. Today, the failure rate of triple (and even quadruple!) therapy to eradicate H.pylori is anywhere from 30 to 40%. This failure rate is even higher in areas where people have built up a resistance to clarithromycin and metronidazol, two common antibiotics administered against H.pylori infection. Patient compliance rates (in other words, how well people adhere to their doctor’s directions for taking the medication) have fallen for several reasons.
The first is that the triple therapy requires a lot of pills in one day, which can be confusing and hard to remember. The second is that the high doses of antibiotics can have some nasty side effects, which causes people to stop taking the medication part-way through the dosage. This premature cessation of therapy, which exposes the bacteria to the antibiotic but does not allow the antibiotic to completely destroy the bacteria, allows the bacteria to develop a resistance to the antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance in a population grows for these reasons (and others).
I didn’t just gather this information from random places on the internet. My educational experience (a major heavy on the use and understanding of the scientific method and requiring hours and hours of research and evaluating previously conducted studies) gave me the ability to sort through studies and scholarly journals and find legitimate, peer-reviewed, well-conducted, representative scientific studies. I’ve been devouring as many of these studies as I can since I found out I may have H.pylori. It turns out that since the late 1990s there have been many, many studies on both alternative treatments and supplements that aid in the success of the traditional antibiotic therapy for H.pylori. Unfortunately most of these studies have been small; wider studies need to be conducted on this bacteria and a natural route to its eradication.
I have, of course, also read as much as I could on the internet (the open internet – blogs, Facebook, forums, etc.) about peoples’ anecdotal experiences in eradicating H.pylori from their own bodies. It turns out that many of the things that people are using to cure their H.pylori naturally are the same things on which scientists have been conducting studies, especially in the last 10 years. Many (but not all) of the natural remedies people are using to cure/treat their H.pylori have been backed as legitimate anti-H.pylori agents by the scientific community.
However, I have not found any studies that claim that any one natural remedy can completely cure an individual of H.pylori with any kind of observable regularity. Despite this, if my test results come back positive for H.pylori (which I should find out this week), I am going to try a natural route to eradication before the high-fail traditional antibiotic therapy. I will be doing this under the supervision of an allopathic physician. I will also be using traditional allopathic labs, i.e. UBT (urea breath test), blood work, and stool test, conducted in allopathic medical labs, to confirm that the H.pylori is truly gone. I will be posting the protocol I choose to use and the results of my therapy here. (I say this about the labs because some of the labs that naturopathic doctors use for testing are not considered legitimate by the scientific community. I do believe in being relatively natural whenever I can, but for test results as important as these I want to know that they’re as reliable as possible.)
I already have a long list, with sources, of things that I know the scientific community has backed in being effective against H.pylori. I will present this list to my doctor. I plan to make a deal with my doctor: He will give me two/three months to try the natural route and test me before I try the traditional therapy.
I’ll update you guys as soon as I know something. There’s hope! Don’t give up.