One of the most successful pathogens in human history is the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium. It has manipulated cellular death pathways to ensure its survival and propagation, permitting it a prolonged existence and perpetual infections in humans. It is so successful that the CDC estimates nearly two-thirds of the human population has this bacteria living inside them.(1) While H. pylori has a long history of success and infection, it can be managed naturally with an evidence-based approach.
What is H. pylori
H. pylori (previously Campylobacter pylori) is a gram-negative bacterium that resides in the digestive tract and has a propensity for attacking the stomach lining — so much so it causes the majority of peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach and upper part of the intestine). H. pylori is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids (saliva, fecal matter, or vomit) of an infected person. It is also contracted by drinking contaminated water. Good hygiene is essential to avoid its spread.
Signs and Symptoms of Infection
One of the problems with H. pylori is that the majority of people who are infected don’t exhibit any symptoms. However, if symptoms do occur they generally present as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, belching, and vomiting. More serious infections may include diarrhea, dark or tarry stools, heartburn, peptic ulcers, loss of appetite, anemia (low red blood cell count), vomiting blood, and fatigue. It is also linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer depending on health status and other environmental factors.(10)
What is the Conventional Treatment for H. pylori
H. pylori is typically treated with “triple therapy.” This involves the simultaneous administration of two antibiotics to kill the bacteria with an acid reducer (esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole or pantoprazole). The acid reducer decreases stomach acidity to improve the action of the antibiotics. Side effects of triple therapy include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomachache, headache, dark colored stools, vaginal itching/discharge, muscle weakness, mood changes, and yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Die-off (Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction) reaction is a term used to describe a reaction during the clearance of pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, yeasts, etc.) from the body with antimicrobials. It is believed to occur when endotoxins produced by massive numbers of dying pathogens overwhelm the body’s ability to clear them out. This creates a toxic state that produces characteristic flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle aches, skin rashes, brain fog, and gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation). Die-off reactions usually occur when significant lifestyle changes are made: diet modification (switching from processed to whole foods — pathogens starve and die off rapidly), beginning probiotics (modifies the gut microbial balance to one with more good bacteria), or taking an antimicrobial substance (food, herb, supplement, or drug). This type of reaction will usually occur hours (1-2) to days (up to 10) after the lifestyle modification occurs.
The risk of die-off reactions may be reduced by backing off on the amount of the antimicrobial substance consumed, making a dietary change more gradually, or reducing the dosage of probiotics taken. In addition, a digestive enzyme (especially one with bromelain and proteases) may reduce reactions to whole foods added to the diet by facilitating better absorption of proteins and nutrients new to your body.
Eradicating H. pylori Naturally
- Essential oils (2 drops each of clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass in a capsule, twice daily, one hour after a meal). Fortunately, scientists have revealed that a number of essential oils kill H. pylori — some at very low concentrations. Common essential oils that are effective against H. pylori include clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass.(2)(3)(4) Even more importantly, research suggests that some of the essential oils kill the bacterium without promoting resistance — a problem plaguing modern day antibiotics.
- DGL (760 mg 20 minutes before each meal). This special form of licorice root has been relied upon for centuries to soothe stomach issues. It is very useful for ulcers and heartburn. One study concluded that the addition of DGL to triple therapy increased the elimination of H. pylori, particularly in people with peptic ulcers.(6) Another study demonstrated that licorice was as effective as bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) for H. pylori infections.(7)
- Black cumin seed oil (1,000 mg after lunch and dinner). Black cumin seed oil and one of its active constituents thymoquinone are two of the most useful natural medicinals known. Scholarly research suggests that they are valuable for myriad health conditions and H. pylori is no exception. People administered 1,000 mg of BCSO (and 40 mg omeprazole), twice daily after meals, experienced reduced H. pylori counts comparable to triple therapy.(8)
- Probiotics (15-50 billion CFU with evening meal). Results of clinical studies suggest that specific probiotics (Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, L. johnsonni La1, and L. reuteri) reduce H. pylori counts in the digestive tract, improve triple therapy eradication rate, or reduce the side effects of triple therapy.(9)
Chances are you are infected with H. pylori, even if you are symptom free. This infection could increase the risk of adverse reactions during lifestyle changes and puts you at greater risk for peptic ulcer and gastritis. Conventional triple therapy is not without side effects and may not be the most effective therapy to eliminate H. pylori. Natural options including essential oils, DGL, black cumin seed oil, and probiotics are promising natural remedies to control this common infection. Talk to your doctor about these natural, evidence-based options if you know, or suspect you have, and H. pylori infection.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a healthcare professional.