Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Classic Jekyll and Hyde: Is H.pylori Friend or Foe?

What words do you associate with the word bacteria? If your mind jumped to thoughts of illness, germs, and harmful infections, then your views align with the majority of the population. However, throughout the study of antibiotic resistance I discovered that many strains of bacteria wield positive, sometimes vital, functions for our bodies. In his book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling our Modern Plagues, author Martin J. Blaser divulges that the world of bacteria remains far from clean-cut by elaborating on the controversial status of the H.pylori bacterial strain existing as foe, friend, or… both.

H.pylori is a strain of bacteria that thrives solely in human stomachs. In the 1980s, Scientist Dr. Barry Marshall pulled out all the stops to prove that H.pylori plays a role in causing gastritis by employing himself as the guinea pig and downing a culture of the bacteria. Sure enough, a few days later he developed stomach pain and bad breath, both common symptoms of gastritis. Marshall then wasted no time in applying this information to stomach ulcers. He administered antibiotics that possessed the power to kill H.pylori to ulcer patients and the results proved that the rate of ulcer recurrence in those who received the antibiotics were much lower. The findings didn’t stop here. Blaser conducted his own experiments on Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. His findings further spurred the negative thoughts toward H.pylori as he discovered that those hosting H.pylori remain six times more likely to obtain stomach cancer later in life than those without it. Based on all of this information, H.pylori must obviously be a foe. How could there be a bright side to gastritis, ulcers, and stomach cancers? There can’t possibly be a debate, “it was like smoking and lung cancer: no argument about cause and effect”, (115).

Many people, including leading scientists around the world, would presume a debate is nonexistent. However, I believe that a strong case exists to substantiate that H.pylori continues to be extremely important in the bodies of humans; and I’ll tell you why. Following the official labeling of H.pylori as a carcinogen, many doctors scrambled to eradicate the bacterial strain at every slight stomach pain among their patients. Have you noticed the stark proliferation of medical issues arising in the early 21st century? The advent of modern diseases can be justified by the habit of people around the world to jump to antibiotics as a quick and easy solution to eradicate “harmful” bacteria. But what if this “harmful” bacteria is actually extremely important? Could the fact that “these old troupers are fast disappearing… be sufficient to explain the growth of asthma” (140) along with the increase in heart burn and obesity? For example, farmers supply their animals large amounts of antibiotics to fatten them up, therefore “the idea that antibiotics might be causing weight gain in our children, that they could be a ‘missing link in the obesity epidemic” (150) remains far from abstract. In fact, Blaser’s many experiments reveal that people who do not carry H.pylori possess an increased chance of suffering from heartburn, asthma, and obesity.

Despite the evidence proposed by Blaser, many of the proponents for the pathogenic nature of H.pylori remain rooted in their old beliefs due to the giant practice grown around the need to eradicate H.pylori. Many of these proponents assume that because of the extensive evidence of H.pylori as extremely negative, the idea of H.pylori doing good remains impossible. However, I believe that H.pylori exists as extremely versatile in its ability to play both hero and villain. How is that possible? The answer lies in amphibious, “the condition in which two-life forms create relationships that are either symbiotic or parasitic, depending on the context,” (105).

How to tell if you carry H.pylori without a blood test:
You probably possess H.pylori if you or your family exhibits:
  • A history of gastritis, ulcers, or stomach cancer
  • A low level of allergies
  • Little prevalence of asthma
  • Small rate of heartburn (acid reflux)
  • A smaller height compared to others

You probably are not a carrier of H.pylori if you or your family exhibits:

  • Little history of stomach problems
  • A high amount of allergies
  • High rate of asthma (especially early onset)
  • Acid reflux issues (especially early onset)
  • A taller height compared to others

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