The bug in question is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacterium that can cause both peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. It also may cause no symptoms at all. Your question is timely because researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center recently completed a study showing that the lower the level of vitamin C in the blood, the more likely you are to be infected with H. pylori. The findings were published in the August 1, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
The researchers analyzed blood samples from nearly 7,000 adults collected at random between 1988 and 1994. They found that those with the lowest blood levels of vitamin C had the highest incidence of H. pylori. However, the study didn't reveal whether vitamin C could prevent infection with H. pylori or if H. pylori is to blame for the low levels of vitamin C seen among infected individuals. Infection with H. pylori often occurs during childhood via food or water that has been contaminated by human fecal waste.
Despite the uncertainty about the relationship between vitamin C and H. pylori, the researchers recommended that everyone -- particularly those who test positive for H. pylori -- increase consumption of foods high in vitamin C because it might help prevent infection or reduce the effects of an infection and, perhaps, prevent peptic ulcer and stomach cancer.
If you have an ulcer or chronic gastritis, simple tests requiring a blood, stool, or breath sample can reveal the presence of the bacteria, and if the tests are positive, antibiotic treatment can cure the infection and help treat the ulcer or gastritis.
Andrew Weil, M.D.