Managing H. Pylori Bacteria with Diet and Nutrition

What I avoid and what I seek out in order to create an optimal environment for health (instead of bacteria)

Today was a pretty low energy Boxing Day, after hosting the Christmas festivities for thirteen family members at our house yesterday and attending my uncle's Christmas Eve celebrations the night before. I would have showered this morning, but my daughter begged me to snuggle in the bed with her and watch a movie instead (although while she took in Toy Story for the 7,876,214th time, I read Brené Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection," a greatly appreciated new present from my sister). I padded around the house listlessly all day and each time I walked through the kitchen, I mindlessly grabbed a leftover Christmas cookie or two off the counter. 

While I enjoyed the relaxing pace of today, I was also keenly aware — as I am every day — that I need to find better ways to relax without causing myself harm. 

Do I mean I am violently self-harming? No, no, no. I'm not doing anything overtly harmful in any way, nor am I overtly upset in any way. What I mean is that I'm hurting myself by ignoring what I know I need to be healthy. 

The resting part of today's equation? Perfectly fantastic. I know I need more rest than the average bear right now (and in general, actually) and though the negative self-talk shouts, lazy!, bad mother!, wrong!, I ignore the voice and indulge that need. But I also need daily exercise to combat the depression. Fresh air would help, too, but the best that I've managed today is a few walks out onto the back deck for some deep breaths.

I changed tactics mid-day to give myself some space from the judgment toward a clear need for downtime. Moving a back burner to-do list item to the front of the stove took advantage of said time in a positive way: that item being re-researching H. pylori bacteria, and diet and supplement recommendations to manage it.

In the spring of 2015, extreme stomach pain and nausea landed me in the ER, then I spent a few more months navigating the tricky path that is the American health system. I finally saw a proper doctor and was given a complete round of bodily fluid tests this summer. The results revealed that H. pylori is behind my issues. They also tested me repeatedly for autoimmune diseases, convinced that one was at play, but as far as the test results show, that is not (currently and hopefully not in the future) the case.

H. Pylori (or Helicobacter Pylori) is a spiral bacterium that lives in the human stomach, damaging its lining and that of the intestines by affecting the production of acids in the stomach (causing overproduction). As such, it puts its host at risk for gastric cancer as much as six-fold (gastric is the second most common cancer worldwide) if ignored. While the link is not directly proven, conditions like depression, skin issues, low energy and headaches/migraines seem to clear up as the infection does, probably because of its connection to leaky gut (gut permeability).

H. pylori is easily spread from person to person through saliva or contact, and therefore infection with this bacteria affects approximately two-thirds of the world's population. But is not often tested for, or discovered, without symptoms or suspicion of an ulcer or active digestive issues. Its link to low energy levels is due to the malabsorption of iron and B-12 it can cause, sometimes leading to anemia or cardiovascular problems.

Such is the case for me. My B-12 levels last summer were alarmingly low, at the bottom of the "normal" range just above impending nerve damage. My diet is sufficient in iron and B-12, though, which shows that my body doesn't absorb what it takes in, thanks to the bacteria. I've had multiple B-12 shots and taken supplements since then, but I do need a re-test to determine if I am any better able to absorb the vitamins now. 

Sadly, my western doctor had no advice on how to manage or treat this bacteria as far as diet, nutrition and supplements were concerned. If it was bothering me enough, I could undergo a two-week intensive antibiotic treatment that was described to make one feel as though she is dying, and was not guaranteed to kill the bacteria in the process (even my doctor recommended against the treatment unless my symptoms were unyieldingly present, which they were not). Thankfully I also supplemented my wisdom chest with homeopathic and eastern-influenced advice, and my own online research on what to do next.

Through those channels and my ensuing experience, I found that there is much that food and supplements can contribute to at least manage, if not ultimately eliminate, the bacteria. I first did this research at the time of my diagnosis six months ago but other than pulling together the right combination of supplements and remembering that, "I think broccoli is good for me," not much stuck.

I just wasn't truly in a place to properly process and put into practice what I needed, even though it was (and is) rather urgent. Figuring out how to address this issue never should have been a back burner item on my to-do list, since it is so central to my physical and mental well-being. But it was.

Now, after spending the day re-researching this infection, I pulled together the following takeaways that I will focus on this year — that which I will work to add to my repertoire and that which I will remove — to take managing H. pylori more seriously for my health and future.

Hell Yes! Add These Bad Boys To The Repertoire

As you can see, a lot of these good-for-me's repeat from list to list, which is great because incorporating them will knock out multiple birdies with fewer stones. Birdies being bacteria, of course.

Vitamin C-rich foods, which can speed up the healing of the stomach lining and decrease the number of precancerous changes in the stomach, such as:

  • Oranges 
  • Grapefruits
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Red peppers
  • Chili peppers
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya
  • Strawberries
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Mango

Iron-rich foods, to make up for the often-found deficiency in the presence of the h. pylori bacteria, such as

  • Lean, grass-fed and responsibly-sourced/raised red meat, pork and poultry
  • Seafood (especially oysters!)
  • Beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach
  • Dried, unsweetened fruit, such as apricots and raisins

Carotenoid-rich foods, which reduce gastric inflammation and the number of bacteria, such as: 

  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Parsley
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango
  • Sweet potatoes

Vitamin A-rich foods, which increase mucous production in the stomach, line the digestive tract and regenerate healthy epithelial cells, such as: 

  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Parsley
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupes
  • Mangoes
  • Legumes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Tropical fruits

Anti-bacterial foods (the 'why' should be a given here...), such as:

  • Garlic
  • Citrus seed extract
  • Mastic gum
  • Berberine
  • Manuka honey

Fiber-rich foods, for the proper functioning of the digestive system and antioxidants, such as:

  • Whole grains, including:
    • Oats
    • Barley
    • Quinoa
    • Brown rice
    • Wild rice
    • Air-popped popcorn
    • 100% whole grain (certified) cereals, breads or pastas
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Dried and fresh fruit (pears, raspberries and prunes are especially high-fiber)
  • Raw, unsalted and unprocessed seeds
  • Cruciferous vegetables, including:
    • Broccoli
    • Kale
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Cabbage
    • Artichokes
    • Cauliflower
    • Turnips
    • Arugula
    • Rutabaga

Flavanoid-rich foods and herbs, for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, and ability to reduce free-radical damage to cells and stop h. pylori from growing, such as:

  • Oregano (or oil via capsule)
  • Rosemary
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Black pepper
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Papaya
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Berries
  • Tree fruits
  • Black and kidney beans
  • Nuts
  • Eggplants
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Artichokes
  • Snap peas
  • Okra

A Multivitamin, Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics, specifically including Lactobacillus salivarius and Lactobacillus acidophilus, which inhibit bacteria's growth, interfere with h. pylori's ability to stick to cells and prevent colonizations and/or eliminate existing colonies of the bacteria.

WATER! Drink 6-8 glasses daily (whatever is closer to half your body weight in ounces) to create optimal conditions for the mucous layer of the stomach (not-optimal conditions allow bacteria to thrive and hide), and of course, for proper hydration of the entire body. 

Black and green tea and red wine are also approved because they are associated with lower incidence of the infection. Phew.

Lastly, the following foods, herbs and spices have been proven to kill h. pylori in a test tube, but have not been proven to eliminate the bacteria in humans or animals (to me, that means it cannot hurt to keep them in the mix):

  • Garlic
  • Manuka honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Capsaicin (found in chili peppers)
  • Rheum palmatum (rhubarb root)

Buh-Bye Pylori! Kick These Foods and Habits To The Curb To Manage the Bacterium (and hopefully remove it over time)

Avoid the following foods because they agitate the bacteria and can therefore worsen symptoms (at best), which increases cancer risk (at worst):

  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy products (stimulates the production of acid in the stomach lining)
  • Red and processed meat
  • Smoked foods/bacon
  • Pickled foods/products
  • Refined grains
  • Spirits
  • Saturated fats
  • High-fat and creamy foods

Avoid overeating. That's a hard one for me, I'm ashamed to say. But one I already know I need to work on, and this is just the frosting on the "Why" cake.

Manage and minimize stress. Whether or not there is conclusive scientific evidence that proves or disproves the link between stress and digestive issues, my experience is that when I am very stressed — I've hit the highest stress moments of my life in the past year — my bacteria acts up and my stomach aches in a distinctive way. I've found that minimizing and managing my stress also minimizes and manages the effects of H. pylori.

I share what I've re-learned today for two reasons: one being that if any of you find yourself diagnosed with the ole H. pylori plaguing your gut, I hope that this list of do's and don't's will come in handy. The second being just that, for myself. I plan to reference this list often as a guide and have even started a Bye-Bye Pylori Pinterest board to help me find and remember recipes that celebrate the foods that help us, and avoid those that don't. 

Here's to a bacteria-free 2016!