If you have an ulcer and tests show that you are infected with the common stomach bacterium H. pylori, the standard medical treatment is two antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI)—sometimes with bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol.
This treatment works quite well most of the time. But there are serious drawbacks. Antibiotics can seriously disrupt your gut biome—the balance of bacteria that is essential to health.
It’s no wonder that many complementary health practitioners, including naturopaths, often prescribe different regimens, relying on botanical and other supplements to bring H. pylori under control. But do they really work? Can readily available, over-the-counter, natural supplements treat ulcers as well as standard medical treatment can?
A trio of medical professionals at Canyon Ranch, a health resort with multiple locations that specializes in integrative and preventive medicine, decided to find out. Says lead study author Mark Liponis, MD, chief medical officer of the Canyon Ranch, “We wanted to find a treatment for H. pylori that avoided antibiotics and their side effects.”
H. PYLORI: WHEN AN OLD FRIEND TURNS NASTY
Before we get into the details, one point is important to make. H. pylori isn’t always a bad thing to have in your gut. The persistent bacteria has co-evolved with humans over tens of thousands of years—about half the people on Earth are infected with it, and in the US, it’s about 20%—with both positive and negative effects. While it can cause ulcers and has been implicated in other stomach problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), H. pylori may protect against certain cancers and also helps ward off gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The truth is, most people who harbor the bacterium do just fine—about 80% of people with it don’t get ulcers, for example. So if you don’t have symptoms, there’s no reason to mess with your H. pylori. But if you do have ulcers, which are lesions in the stomach lining that can be painful and debilitating, getting rid of this bacterium is the way to go.
AN EFFECTIVE COMBINATION
Dr. Liponis’s team searched the existing literature for herbs with known activity against the bacterium that are also available in a commercial preparation. Once they had a formula, they tested it on 39 patients who were found to be infected with H. pylori and who had digestive issues such as peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel symptoms or endoscopy-confirmed gastritis or esophagitis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach or esophagus)— all linked to overgrowth of the bacterium. Treatment lasted two weeks.
Results: 74% were free of the bacterium after two weeks, and all of these “responders” had improvement in their symptoms. None of the participants stopped taking the treatment because of side effects, although a few experienced minor abdominal cramping or increased gas.
It’s a small study, and there was no control group, so more research is needed to establish this as a new treatment. But other studies have found that the standard antibiotic/PPI regimen is effective roughly 80% of the time, so the results are comparable.
SHOULD YOU TRY IT?
If you want to try this protocol, do so under the supervision of a health-care professional. An ulcer, gastritis, esophagitis and IBS are serious conditions, so you don’t want to self-treat. According to Andrew Rubman, ND, naturopathic physician and Health Insider contributing editor, who has long used natural botanical treatments for ulcers, it’s better and more effective to work with a physician who is expert in digestive issues and who can help you learn to encourage your body’s own natural healing processes to cope with ulcers and other stomach and digestive challenges.
When you do talk with your doctor, you can share these details about this study’s treatment protocol. For two weeks, patients took…
- Mastic gum, which comes from a plant grown in Greece. This is a traditional stomach remedy in the Mediterranean, and it has shown anti-H. pylori activity in the lab. Source: Jarrow Formulas. Dose: One 500-mg capsule, taken three times a day.
- Oil of oregano, which also has shown anti-H. pylori effects in lab studies. Source: Biotics Research Corporation. Dose: Emulsified oil of oregano, one 50-mg tablet, three times a day.
- Bismuth, which is already part of standard medical treatment for H. pylori. The team used Pepto-Bismol as a source, since it’s readily available. Dose: Four to six tablets a day in divided doses between meals.
- A probiotic. Why? While these supplements are kinder on the gut than antibiotics, they can still upset the balance of bacteria. Source: Vital 10, which contains five billion bacteria from 10 different bacterial strains. Dose: One capsule, taken twice daily.
- A fiber supplement, to “feed” the probiotic. Source: Herbulk, a supplement that includes both cellulose, a source of insoluble fiber, and psyllium, a source of soluble fiber. “Soluble fiber promotes the growth of friendly bacteria,” explains Dr. Liponis. Dose: 14 grams a day (a heaping tablespoon) mixed in a large glass of water.
Then, for the next two weeks, patients continued just with the probiotic and the fiber supplement. The researchers also made a few adjustments for individuals. Some participants were sensitive to aspirin, so they were given a different bismuth supplement because Pepto-Bismol contains salicylates, the active ingredient in aspirin. Some patients already had such high-fiber diets that they didn’t need a fiber supplement. But the goal was to find a standard regimen that relied on standard over-the-counter supplements.
If you do try it, let us know how it works for you by leaving a comment below.
To learn more, see the Bottom Line articles “You Have H. Pylori — Now What?”, “The Jekyll-and-Hyde Bacteria” and “Popular OTC Heartburn Drug Could Give You A Heart Attack.”