• By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD

Probiotics a Proactive Way to Battle Bad Bugs

Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, for short, is a bacterium found in the digestive tracts of at least half the world’s population. If it’s so common, why worry about it? It turns out H. pylori can cause serious health issues in some people, including heartburn, stomach ulcers, and increased risk of stomach cancer. What’s the best way to battle such a common scourge? Preliminary test tube research suggests fighting fire with fire might be a good first step.

A balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract may protect us against H. pylori

Beating bad bugs

Multiple human studies have shown that probiotics, healthy microbes found in the human digestive tract, support a healthy digestive system. This foundation has given rise to related research, including studies conducted in an artificial environment outside of living organism, such as a test tube or Petri dish (in vitro). Several of these studies have suggested probiotics may keep H. pylori in check. To test whether probiotic bacteria can effectively reduce H. pylori-related stomach damage in the body, researchers conducted a mouse study on certain probiotic microbes (Bifidobacterium bifidum CECT 7366 and B. bifidum CECT 7366).

The latter strain was shown to:

  • Reduce H. pylori growth by up to 95% in vitro
  • Reduce H. pylori-related damage to the stomach lining in the body
  • Resist destruction by stomach acid and digestive juices in the body
  • Establish itself to grow successfully in the intestine in the body
  • Not create unhealthy compounds due to bacterial activity in the digestive tract in the body
  • Be well tolerated by the mice, even at high doses

Boosting stomach health

This was not a clinical study, so plenty more research needs to be done, including with humans, to know how much weight to give these initial findings. But it does suggest that a balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract may protect us against the downsides of H. pylori. Follow our tips to help your body gets what it needs and keep H. pylori under control.

  • H. pylori is very common, but causes health problems only in a small portion of people who carry it. If you do not have symptoms of H. pylori infection, you do not need to be tested for it.
  • If you have heartburn, stomach ulcers, or other digestive issues, talk to your doctor right away. These untreated symptoms, whether due to H. pylori or another cause, can increase the risk of stomach and esophageal cancers.
  • Add probiotics to your diet with fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, buttermilk, tempeh, kimchi, natto, and miso.
  • Eat prebiotics, the nutrients that probiotic bacteria like to eat, including ground flaxseeds, oats and other whole grains, beans and peas, vegetables and fruit, especially garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, dandelion greens, chicory root, beets, yams, parsnips and rutabagas; and unrefined honey (do not give unpasteurized honey to children under two years old)
  • Talk to a doctor or dietitian about whether a probiotic supplement is right for you.
  • If you decide to take a supplement, consider a brand that contains multiple types of bacteria, including different strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus. Follow label instructions and refrigerate the product if recommended.

(Appl Environ Microbiol 2011;77:1335–43)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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