Barry Marshall’s story goes something like that. Mr. Marshall was vilified by the medical establishment, took a bullet for scientific research, and lived to collect a Nobel Prize.
In 1982, Marshall and his colleague, Robin Warren, discovered that peptic ulcers are caused by a parasitic bacterium called helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). But the medical community wasn’t buying it. First of all, stress was the ‘known’ cause of stomach ulcers. And secondly, no one believed that bacteria could survive in the highly acidic environment of the stomach.
Sensing a drastic measure was called for, Marshall drank a culture of H. pylori. The result: nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal pains…in short: an ulcer! Endoscopy confirmed it with visual evidence of H. pylori at the point of inflammation. Then Marshall cured his infection with antibiotics.
This technique may not have qualified as accepted scientific methodology, but as personal testimonials go it was pretty convincing. Still, it took years for the medical community to fully embrace the discovery that revolutionised our knowledge of peptic ulcers and how to treat them. Last week the Nobel Assembly announced that Marshall and Warren will receive the 2005 prize for medicine.
Now thats what I call dedication to the cause!
Beat H.pylori with good bacteria
Recent research suggests a link between H. pylori and several different cancers, including those of the stomach, pancreas, and the larynx. So you could make the case that Marshall and Warren have saved an untold amount of lives. They certainly changed the way ulcers are treated. Previous to the H. pylori discovery, antacid medication was the primary therapy. As a result, peptic ulcers often became chronic and debilitating.
The downside of antibiotic use is that new drug-resistant strains of the bacterium have developed. Antibiotics can also upset the delicate balance of helpful bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, paving the way for additional problems.
At HSI, we’ve written about several natural therapies that eliminate H. pylori without the unwanted side effects of antibiotics. In the e-alert How to relieve the crippling pain of peptic ulcers (19/9/03), we told you how lactoferrin, a protein found in bovine colostrum, can kill H. pylori bacterium.
Studies show that lactoferrin binds iron, keeping it away from cancerous cells, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that require iron to grow. Research also suggests that lactoferrin activates genes that launch your immune response. Lactoferrin supplements are available through many sources online and in most health food stores.
H. pylori infections are common
Scientists believe that as many as six or seven out of every ten people are infected with H. pylori, but only about one in ten develops an ulcer. A 2003 study from the San Francisco VA Medical Center in the US, suggests that an ample intake of vitamin C may help some people keep H. pylori from ever becoming a problem.
The VA team examined blood samples and other data collected from more than 6,700 adult subjects. About one-third of the blood samples revealed the presence of H. pylori bacterium. The samples were also tested to measure levels of vitamin C.
After accounting for variable factors that included ethnicity, researchers found that among white subjects who had the highest levels of vitamin C, H. pylori infection was reduced by 25 percent. However, non-white subjects with high vitamin C levels apparently didn’t receive the same benefit; only a very modest correlation to reduced infection.
Those are the correlations the researchers are certain of. Questions about cause and effect, however, produce less certain answers. For instance: Does vitamin C reduce the chance of H. pylori infection, or does H. pylori diminish vitamin C levels? Also, H. pylori infection often occurs when patients are very young, leading to ulcers later in life. It’s not known if vitamin C could prevent this early infection. Some animal studies have indicated that H. pylori infection may be reduced with high levels of vitamin C intake.
Obviously, more research is called for. But in spite of the unknown factors, the lead researcher Dr Joel A. Simon, told Science Daily that he would encourage everyone – especially those who test positive for H. pylori – to increase consumption of vitamin C-rich foods.