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Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial infection affecting the stomach, can lead to serious conditions like gastritis, ulcers, and even stomach cancer. In this blog, we will delve into the symptoms of Helicobacter pylori infection and its link to gastritis. Additionally, we will explore how this bacterium survives in the acidic stomach environment and why is crucial to treat this infection.

How common is Helicobacter pylori infection?
Helicobacter pylori is a widespread bacterium, infecting more than half of the world’s population. In developed countries like the USA, the prevalence of H. pylori infection is typically lower, often ranging from 30% to 40%, but it can vary within different population groups and regions. In contrast, in some parts of Asia, such as India and other countries, the prevalence can indeed be higher, exceeding 80% in some areas. If left untreated, this infection can persist throughout a person’s lifetime. It is a key player in development of various digestive system diseases, ranging from chronic gastritis to stomach ulcers, and even gastric cancer.

Helicobacter pylori Transmission and Prevention
The most common mode of transmission is believed to be person-to-person, often in childhood. Here is how H. pylori transmission typically occurs:

  1. Oral-Oral Route: This is the most common mode of transmission, especially among family members. It involves the transfer of the bacterium through saliva from the mouth of an infected person to another person. This can happen through activities like sharing eating utensils, cups, or through close personal contact.
  2. Fecal-Oral Route: Contaminated water or food, often in regions with poor sanitation, can be a source of H. pylori transmission. In these cases, the bacterium may be present in the feces of an infected individual and can be ingested by another person if proper hygiene and sanitation practices are not followed.
    For all these reasons, regular testing for H. pylori infection is essential, even for those without apparent symptoms.

Symptoms of Helicobacter pylori Infection
Helicobacter pylori infection can be asymptomatic, meaning it may not cause noticeable symptoms in many people. However, in some cases, it can lead to various digestive symptoms and complications. Common symptoms and complications include:

  1. Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach lining, which can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea.
  2. Peptic Ulcers: H. pylori infection is a major cause of peptic ulcers, which can result in symptoms like burning abdominal pain, indigestion, and vomiting.
  3. Dyspepsia: This is a general term for discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen, often accompanied by bloating, early satiety (feeling full quickly after eating), and nausea.
  4. Heartburn: Some individuals with H. pylori infection may experience symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including heartburn and acid regurgitation.
  5. Unexplained Weight Loss: In some cases, chronic H. pylori infection can lead to weight loss, particularly if it affects a person’s appetite and digestion.
  6. Anemia: In rare cases, H. pylori infection can lead to iron-deficiency anemia due to chronic bleeding from stomach ulcers.
  7. Stomach Cancer: While the risk is relatively low, long-term H. pylori infection can increase the risk of developing stomach (gastric) cancer, especially in individuals with certain genetic predispositions.
    Recognizing these signs is vital for timely diagnosis and treatment.

Addressing Asymptomatic Helicobacter pylori Infection
Even without symptoms, long-term Helicobacter pylori infection can lead to inflammation, ultimately resulting in gastritis. This inflammation, if left untreated, can progress to ulcers, and in rare cases, stomach or duodenal cancer. In 1994, the World Health Organization officially classified H. pylori as a human carcinogen. Moreover, an increasing body of evidence indicates that H. pylori infection raises the risk of developing colon cancer.
The presence of H. pylori can impair the absorption of iron from food, often resulting in anemia — a condition stemming from insufficient iron levels in the blood.
Considering these factors, the current consensus suggests a proactive approach to testing for Helicobacter pylori. This means screening individuals, even those without apparent symptoms, and initiating treatment upon confirmation of the bacterium’s presence. This proactive stance aims to prevent potential complications that can arise from this harmful bacterium.

Types of Gastritis Caused by Helicobacter pylori

External and internal factors influence where Helicobacter pylori settles in the stomach, determining the type of gastritis it causes. External factors encompass smoking, alcohol consumption, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as well as medications designed to reduce gastric acid secretion (PPIs). On the other hand, internal factors include H. pylori genetic and the host’s immune response. This all play a role in determining which type of gastritis will be caused by H. pylori infection.  

Antral gastritis, prevalent in 70-80% of cases associated with H. pylori infection, leads to increased gastric acid secretion and inflammation of the lower part of the stomach. If untreated, it can progress to ulcers.

Pangastritis, on the other hand, results in reduced acid secretion, allowing Helicobacter pylori to spread throughout the stomach. This type, if not addressed, can lead to atrophy of the stomach wall, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, and even stomach cancer.

Helicobacter pylori Survival Strategy

Helicobacter pylori has a unique ability to survive in the acidic stomach environment, where most other bacteria die. It achieves this feat by producing an enzyme called urease, which neutralizes stomach acid. This enzyme breaks down urea into ammonia and carbonic acid, which neutralize the acid and effectively create a safe haven for the bacterium.

Furthermore, the carbonic acid produced by the decomposition of urea is further broken down into water and carbon dioxide, since it is a gas, creates pressure in the stomach (flatulence) and causes belching.

The Role of Mucus in Helicobacter pylori Survival

Under normal conditions, the stomach is lined with thick, protective mucus. However, when Helicobacter pylori neutralizes the acid, the mucus changes in structure, becoming thinner and more permeable. This allows the bacterium to move freely and colonize new areas, potentially leading to further damage.

Taking into account the complications that can arise from H. pylori infection, effective treatment is essential. Antibiotics are conventional and effective treatment for Helicobacter pylori infection. However, specific combination of essential oils such as Wild Oregano, Thyme and Summer Savory are also effective. They acts locally on the gastric mucosa, directly targeting and eliminating Helicobacter pylori. Additionally, essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties, reducing mucosal inflammation caused by excessive stomach acid.


Helicobacter pylori infection in human stomach with gastritis development

Understanding the symptoms and consequences of Helicobacter pylori infection and gastritis is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. With the right approach, including natural solutions like essential oils, we can combat this bacterium and protect our digestive health.

Remember! Early intervention can make all the difference!

Author: Natasa Simin, PhD in Biochemistry

Reference cited in this text:

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Celli et al (2009) Helicobacter pylori moves through mucus by reducing mucin viscoelasticity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 106(34), 14321–14326.

Kusters et al (2006) Pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori infection. Clin Microbiol Rev, 19(3), 449–490.

Nikolić et al (2023) Savory, oregano and thyme essential oil mixture (HerbELICO®) counteracts Helicobacter pylori. Molecules, 28(5):2138.

Razak et al (2017). Development of Amoxicillin loaded microspheres for anti-Helicobacter pylori infection using Ionic Gelation method. Int. J. Sci. Res. Innov. Std., 2(11), 56-67.

Sachs, G., Scott, D., & Wen, Y. (2011). Gastric Infection by Helicobacter pylori. Curr Gastroenterol Rep., 13(6), 540–546.