Helicobacter pylori: Friend or Foe?

Can H. pylori colonization offer some protection against disease?

Helicobacter pylori is an organism typically known as the culprit of painful stomach ulcers and severe abdominal pain, although there is now growing evidence which suggesting that there may be advantages to colonization by this acid-loving organism.

In several studies conducted during the 1990s and 2000s, correlations emerged between H. pylori colonization and reduced risk of several diseases or symptoms such as bacterial diarrhea, asthma, and allergies in children, as well as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and celiac disease.(1, 2, 3)

Many people are asymptomatically colonized with H. pylori and do not suffer adverse effects. In these instances, H. pylori may play a beneficial role and does not necessarily require eradication through treatment.

The menacing complications caused by H. pylori infection described on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website are stomach bleeding, perforation of the stomach wall, ulcers blocking food from leaving the stomach, and stomach cancer.(4) Despite these complications, research suggests that there is no health benefit to eliminating H. pylori when a child is asymptomatically colonized with the organism.(5) In a study by Monajemzadeh, et. al., H. pylori prevented bacterial diarrhea in children.(6) In 2008, Chen and Blaser showed reduced asthma and allergies in patients colonized by H. pylori.(7) Based on these and other publications, non-invasive H. pylori colonization appears to be a beneficial organism of the gut microbiome.

The symptoms and diseases caused by invasive H. pylori can be severe and are important to detect and diagnose in patients presenting illness. However, this organism appears to be important to the human microbiome by providing an immunity boost to other diseases and allergies.

More research is needed in this area to determine whether the presence of this organism could prevent or eliminate some types of disease states. Presently, the eradication of H. pylori does not seem necessary for asymptomatically colonized individuals, and may even prove to reduce the beneficial effects.

by Anna Klavins
R&D Microbiologist, Hardy Diagnostics

Works cited:
1.     https://www.naspghan.org/files/documents/pdfs/annual-meeting/2014/czinn.pdf
2.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4291894/
3.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858109/
4.     https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/helicobacter-pylori
5.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928165/
6.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3950475/
7.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3902975/

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