January 6th, 2012

H. pylori and ulcers

I keep reading that Helicobactor pylori causes ulcers. That’s supposed to be an improvement on the old idea that it might be stress, or diet, or some unknown factor that leads to the condition.

But it’s actually not correct. The idea that the bacerium causes ulcers is way too simplistic, as so many science “facts” spread by pop science articles are.

Now, it’s true that most people who have ulcers harbor H. pylori in their stomachs. But it’s also true that most people who harbor H. pylori in said guts do not have ulcers.

Here’s a bit more detail [emphasis mine]:

[H. pylori] was identified in 1982 by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who found that it was present in patients with chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers, conditions that were not previously believed to have a microbial cause. It is also linked to the development of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer. However, over 80 percent of individuals infected with the bacterium are asymptomatic and it has been postulated that it may play an important role in the natural stomach ecology…More than 50% of the world’s population harbor H. pylori in their upper gastrointestinal tract.

And this fact sheet adds that “H. pylori causes more than half of peptic ulcers worldwide.” “More than half” is far from “all.”

So, plenty of people have ulcers but no H. pylori, and plenty of people have H. pylori but no ulcers. Instead of saying that the bacterium causes ulcers, it would be more accurate to say that H. pylori has a strong association with ulcers and that infection with it somewhat increases a person’s chance of having ulcers.

This may not be the most burning (pun intended) question of the day, but it’s been bugging me (same) for a long time.

9 Responses to “H. pylori and ulcers”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    there is more to it…
    the body may not develop ulcers or may take longer. the researcher was not taken seriously till he consumed h pylori and got an ulcer

    its not that if you have the beastie you always get an ulcer, your immune system may be able to keep up for a long while, and stress may make it fall enough to get the ulcer

    its also not the only cause, so there are ulcers that are not pylori related.

    a friend into health medicine lost her husband to their cures… rather than a course of antibiotics which are bad dont ya know… they went with what i would call acidophilous and munching on dairy…

    problem was that the theory of acidophilous being the good bacteria was and is a crock as the research into the flora and fauna of the gut was and has not really been done (but has been started recently).

    and the noshing gave the man a weight condition, and a overhanging gut. which i pointed out causes negative internal pressure on the body and through that an enlarged heart.

    she bought him a treadmill to work on that, and he died of a heart attack alone when she went upstairs and fell asleep. she woke up noticing that he never came to bead, and found him. (which ended our friendship too as the points i made and said came to fruition but of course not in detail)

    given that h pylori is transported by flys and that they often land on the foods we eat at bbq, and other open events, the h pylori is a good start to alleviating problems. ie, get rid of it first, then see and work on other issues (as its not a friend anyway)…

  2. n.n Says:

    There is a disturbing lack of interest to distinguish between cause and effect. I would attribute this failure to treating effects is more profitable. Case in point is AGW/AGCC/”climate disruption” — “consensus” science; welfare and character development; deviant behaviors and disassociation; dreams of instant gratification and corruption; etc.

    It’s amusing to observe that the people who claim to be the least motivated by profit, tend to be the most motivated by it. They just manage to obfuscate their motivations better than others. For this reason, and especially when they prematurely terminate the scientific process, they pose the greatest threat to human viability.

  3. Don Carlos Says:

    I love it when Neo applies her lawyerly thinking to medicine.

  4. expat Says:

    I think the problem is that before the discovery of H pylori, the consensus was that bacteria could not be involved in ulcers. Its discovery was just a first step in getting people to investigate the illness more thoroughly. I once had an ulcer that was totally caused by stress and a resultant lousy diet. After my first dose of an acid blocker, I could eat anything again. Had Heliobacter been involved, I wouldn’t have received antibiotic treatment at the time.

    This case is one reason I find the whole microbiome project so fascinating. We are unbelievably complicated.

  5. Don Carlos Says:

    Sorry, expat, but your story proves exactly nothing about H. pylori. People recover from bacterial infections like pneumonia, too, without antibiotics…just fewer of them do.

  6. donb Says:

    Something that they formerly taught to future scientists, but apparently stopped teaching at some point:

    Correlation does NOT prove Causation!

  7. Paula Sundstrom Says:

    Although H. pylori has a strong association with ulcers and infection with it somewhat increases a person’s chance of having ulcers, accumulating evidence suggests that H. pylori has several beneficial roles.

  8. Don Carlos Says:

    Kindly see for a good review. And kindly note the ulcer relapse rates with and without H. pylori eradication.

    Paula: “suggests” is the operative word. I suggest you consider the Atlanic piece in the same light as those who suggest that poverty has redeeming values.

  9. amanda Says:

    And now you have unearthed the most common problem with coming to a scientific conclusion! I would love to blame it on the MSM’s failure to understand basic scientific principles and statistics but there are too many researchers who are also quite sloppy when it comes to interpreting the results. Unfortunately erroneous conclusions contribute to suspicions about erroneous design, poor implementation, ulterior motives for the research and even falsification of data.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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