If you search the internet today looking at information relating to intestinal bacteria much of the time you will come across a specific bug which is usually referred to as H Pylori (Helicobacter Pylori). Although we now understand that intestinal gut bacteria reside in their trillions in the digestive tract what sets this particular organism apart from the others is that it lives not in the intestines but in the stomach itself. Although it was reported for over 100 years that certain bacteria lived in the stomach this was decried by most scientists. They believed that because the environment of the stomach was highly acidic, no bacteria could possibly survive for any length of time. This theory was disproved back in 1982 by a couple of Australian scientists called Marshall and Warren, who found that not only did it exist in a patient who was suffering from stomach ulcers but to prove their point Marshall actually drank some of the bacteria which resulted in gastric disturbances. Yet the issue was resolved, this particular bacteria could indeed survive the acidic environment of the stomach.
Since this time H Pylori, which is a gram negative bacteria, has been researched with regard to its influence as a causative factor of not only stomach ulcers but also those of the duodenal variety and other gut conditions.
It has been estimated that depending on where you live in the world between 30% and 85% of populations are infected with H. Pylori. The incidence of it is though known to increase with age and decrease relative to affluence (and presumably standard of living). However only around 15% of those affected will suffer from any symptoms at all and, confusingly, not all people who suffer from stomach ulcers are actually infected with this particular bacteria. This has led some people to speculate that H Pylori is not actually the main causation of stomach ulcers and its existence in the stomach may actually have beneficial properties which have not yet been established.
Currently however it is considered to be problematic and, like many other organisms of the gut microflora, it is thought to be capable of forming biofilms. This gives it extra protection against not only immune system attack but also antibiotics.
It is not being reported that H Pylori is being cleared by antibiotic treatment because it was at one time noted for recurring after conventional antibiotics were prescribed. However the current success rate of antibiotics permanently ridding the stomach of this bacterial is open to some speculation as microflora, particularly ones which reside in biofilms are noted for being able to build resistance to antibiotics rather than being eliminated by them.
Most bacteria cannot survive in the stomach because of the highly acidic environment, however H pylori uses its unique shape to burrow into the walls of the stomach and it tunnels down to the epithelial cells where the pH of the environment is more alkaline and allows it to hide away from the injurious acid. It’s protective qualities don’t end there however, because the bacteria can actually produce a substance of its own, which is called urease. This can be broken down and results in an ammonia which neutralizes any stomach acid which may come into contact with it. Thus the environment in which the H pylori lives, although very localized compared to the surrounding area, is actually conducive to its survival.
Other than the stomach H pylori is thought to damage the duodenum, which is the part of the intestine most closely attached to the exit of the stomach. It does this not only by tunneling into the epithelial cells but also by producing the substances which alter the pH of the environment. This leaves the stomach lining and the tight junctions which prevent leaky gut syndrome developing, subject to possible damage by not only the shifting pH but also the bacteria, secretions and other bacteria and toxins.
Certainly it has to be said that there are many inconsistencies relating to H Pylori, its effects and successful treatments and at the moment there are many questions which are left unanswered. However hopefully science will be able to research this bacteria more fully in the forthcoming years and we will be able to establish the exact purpose of this bacteria and its specific detrimental effects.