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Could an H. pylori infection be the root of your gut issues? What H. pylori test is best to find out and how do you treat the infection properly?
Once you start getting into the nitty gritty of gut health, you start to realize it’s so much more than taking a probiotic every day and crossing your fingers that it’s actually doing something. The gut microbiome is a nuanced and complex system and there are several factors that contribute to its health.
A huge factor that is often overlooked is actually gut infections. Gut infections are way more common than you might think! Particularly, an infection called Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori for short). In fact, 60% of the world’s population has an H. pylori infection. Yes, that’s right. More than HALF the world’s population is currently harboring a gut infection that we’re just not talking about!
So— what even is H. pylori, how does it spread, how do you know if YOU have the infection, what H. pylori test is best, and how do you successfully treat it? I’ve got answers for you…
H. pylori is a type of bacteria that attacks the stomach lining. It actually reduces the acidity of the stomach so that your gut remains an ideal environment to survive. The H. pylori microbes also pierce your stomach lining and surround themselves with mucus so that they are protected from your immune cells. They’re sneaky little buggers!
As I’m sure you can imagine, pierced holes in your stomach lining is not a good thing. This irritates the lining and can cause ulcers. Studies confirm that 80% of gastric and duodenal ulcers are actually due to an underlying H. pylori infection. Once it gets to this point, it means the H. pylori has been wreaking havoc for quite some time!
H. pylori is very easily spread, which helps to explain why so many people have an H. pylori infection (even if they are unaware). H. pylori can be transmitted through human to human contact by way of bodily fluids such as saliva or nasal fluid. It’s also often transmitted through food or water.
If you do harbor H. pylori bacteria, it’s common to have gotten it during childhood. If you’ve ever spent time in an elementary school classroom or have kids of your own, you know small children aren’t exactly the most hygienic bunch. The bacteria’s easy transmissibility through human contact makes it very common to find the infection in members of the same family.
And while it’s fairly easy to come across H. pylori bacteria at some point in your life, there are several factors that allow it to thrive, and eventually grow to infection status:
Basically, the microbes spread by human contact, but once the bacteria enters your system, if you don’t have enough beneficial bacteria, important nutrients, or a strong enough immune system to fight off the pathogenic H. pylori, it continues to spread and thrive within your gut.
H. pylori infections often go undiagnosed because in the beginning stages, there aren’t many clear signs or symptoms. This is why so many of my clients come up positive for H. pylori infections in my practice and had no idea they were harboring this pathogenic overgrowth for so long!
It isn’t until the bacteria has made itself comfortable in your gut for an extended period of time without treatment that symptoms begin to occur. This means most people with the infection have it for several years, eventually leading to chronic inflammation.
Oftentimes H. pylori is detected once an ulcer develops in the small intestine or stomach. This is unfortunate because at that point, the infection has already wreaked far too much havoc! I’m all about preventative medicine and I believe we should be identifying and treating the root problem before the symptoms become severe.
If you suspect you may be harboring a gut infection like H. pylori, it’s always best to test not guess! The best way to know for sure if you have an H.Pylori infection is to test through a DNA stool analysis such as the GI Map stool test.
I use the GI Map with the majority of my clients because it offers quantitative results, which means it not only will tell you whether H. pylori is present in your gut, but also how much. Accurately assessing the quantity of a pathogen is essential to determine whether its considered an infection and contributing significantly to your symptoms.
It is also important to note however that not all strains of H. Pylori are bad! There are two virulence factors that suggest a problematic strain to look out for when you get tested— cytotoxin A or Vac-A.
The conventional way to treat an H. pylori infection is what is commonly known as “triple therapy.” This consists of an acid blocker and two or three different antibiotic treatments to be taken for one week.
This combination is generally pretty effective at killing the bacteria, but it comes at a price. Antibiotics aren’t able to target only certain strains of bacteria. This means that they not only kill pathogenic microbes like H. pylori, but the beneficial bacteria in your gut as well. This further exacerbates the source of the problem— an imbalanced gut microbiome.
Once the balance of bacteria in the gut becomes imbalanced, it leads to leaky gut where invaders pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation— the perfect environment for gut infections to thrive.
This is why when possible, taking a natural approach to eliminating an H.Pylori infection is a great option.
Functional medicine seeks to use strategic dietary, supplement, and lifestyle protocols to create an environment in your gut that has the strength to fight the infection. When you reduce inflammation and build up the beneficial microbes in your microbiome, the H. pylori no longer has an ideal environment to thrive and becomes crowded out. Basically when you have enough “good guys” in your gut, they kick out those “bad guys” pretty effectively.
The goals of an effective functional medicine H. pylori protocol includes:
H.Pylori can be removed through a combination of supplements and lifestyle and dietary factors that reduce inflammation and stress.
Along with supplementation to aid in the removal of H. pylori, food and lifestyle plays a huge factor in the functional medicine approach to healing.
The mouth harbors a ton of bacteria, both good and bad. We call this balance of bacteria the oral microbiome. If you have an imbalance or overgrowth in your gut, you can bet the same goes for your mouth as well. This is why when you have an H. pylori infection, it’s important to recognize that the microbes are present in your oral microbiome and take measures against the spread.
I recommend taking your oral hygiene routine very seriously. Obviously brush your teeth twice a day for at least 2 minutes and floss, however it’s also important to take it a step further. A few additional oral care steps include tongue scraping morning and night, oil pulling with coconut oil, and using a waterpik with hydrogen peroxide.
An extremely important aspect of healing any gut infection is reducing inflammation and a huge contributor to inflammation is inflammatory foods. This can mean typical inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, and fried, processed, and sugary products, but it can also mean generally “healthy” foods that you so happen to be sensitive or intolerant to.
In regards to foods that typically affect the H. pylori infection, you want to stay away from foods that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter and foods that irritate the esophagus and stomach.
Foods that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter:
Foods that irritate the esophagus and stomach:
To identify foods that you specifically are sensitive to, I suggest getting food sensitivity tested. Food sensitivity tests pinpoint the specific foods that are creating inflammation in your body. As part of a gut-healing protocol, temporarily removing these foods will aid in reducing inflammation and allow for the gut lining to heal. The food sensitivity test I use is called the Mediator Release Test (MRT) and it is the gold standard for properly identifying food sensitivities.
When it comes to healing from H. pylori or any gut infection, the time it will take to heal depends on each unique case. Everyone is different and factors such as severity, how long you’ve had the infection, and the state of your gut and immune system significantly impact what path to healing will work best for you.
I highly recommend working with a functional practitioner who will test not only for the H. pylori itself, but run a full panel with interpretations. This way you truly know what you’re working with and have a blueprint to guide you to healing.
If you suspect you may have an H. pylori infection or a gut imbalance of any sort, I would love to chat with you about my programs and 7 step protocol to healing the gut and reversing autoimmunity. Check out my coaching programs at nikkiyeltonrd.com/programs and let’s find the right fit for you!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.