Battling Stomach Bug?

I was diagnosed with H. Pylori eight years ago and did the antibiotic treatment, but the bacteria came back again. I am now trying to decide if I should try herbs and vitamins in an effort to eliminate the bacteria. Or do you recommend trying antibiotics once again? I don’t like the side effects.

– October 22, 2010

H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori), is a common bacterium that can inhabit the intestinal tract. Infection with H. pylori is a contributing factor in most ulcers and can also increase risks of stomach cancer, but in many people, it causes no symptoms at all. However, if you have an ulcer or chronic gastritis, simple tests requiring a blood, stool, or breath sample can reveal the presence of the bacteria. If the tests are positive, antibiotic treatment can cure the infection and also help treat any ulcer or gastritis that may be present.

I definitely recommend that you take another course of antibiotics to eliminate the H. pylori. To prevent the side effects, which can include diarrhea, cramping, bloating or other unpleasant digestive symptoms I recommend taking probiotics while you’re undergoing treatment. Many of the prescribed antibiotics indiscriminately  target “friendly” intestinal bacteria that help keep your digestive system functioning normally. These beneficial microbes help complete the digestive process, and some produce needed vitamins. There’s even evidence that without normal “friendly” bacteria in the digestive tract, our immune systems wouldn’t function properly, decreasing our resistance to harmful bugs.

Probiotics are products containing bacteria that normally inhabit the human digestive tract, usually Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, (sometimes they are collectively called “acidophilus.”) They are present naturally in cultured milk products, such as yogurt with active cultures or acidophilus milk, but concentrations of desired bacteria in milk products may not be high enough to do you any good, so I recommend the use of supplemental lactobacillus in liquid or capsule form. I particularly recommend the strains known as Lactobacillus GG  and Bacillus coagulans 30, because research shows that they survive passage through the strong acid of the stomach and actually make it into the intestinal tract where they’re needed.

I checked with Gerard Mullin, M.D., an integrative gastroenterologist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, to find out if any herbs have been shown to be effective against H. pylori. He says there is insufficient evidence to recommend herbal treatment at this time, but also notes that probiotics have been shown to enhance the effects of the antibiotics used against  H. pylori. Start taking probiotics twice a day with meals as soon as you begin the antibiotics and continue for a few days after you finish them.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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