stomach ulcers and H pylori

Hanan Gancz, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, presented some interesting research findings at the recent General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Toronto, Canada.

Apparently H. pylori, the bacteria that causes the majority of the ulcers in adults, is much more likely to cause gastric problems if the person has a high salt diet: High concentrations of salt in the stomach appear to induce gene activity in the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori, making it more virulent and increasing the likelihood of an infected person developing a severe gastric disease.

H pylori accounts for up to 90% of duodenal ulcers and up to 80% of gastric ulcers. Infection with H. pylori is common in the United States; about 20% of persons less than 40 years of age and about 50% of persons over 60 years of age are infected. Most infected people do not have symptoms.

Back when I was in college this relationship between H pylori and ulcers was just being discovered by a pair of Australians, pathologist Robin Warren and physician Barry Marshall. That was in the early 1980s. Unfortunately there was a lot of resistance to this discovery since peptic ulcers had long been associated with stress and spicy foods. It wasn't until 1994 that NIH finally published an opinion stating that most recurrent gastric ulcers were caused by H. pylori, and recommended that antibiotics be included in the treatment regimen.

Getting back to the work done by Hanan Gancz, the obvious assumption would be that high salt levels help the H pylori bacteria cause their nefarious work on our stomach linings. That doesn't seem to be the case though.

You see, Gancz decided to look at the direct effect a high concentration of salt had on both the growth and gene expression of the bacterium and according to Gancz, "We noted that H. pylori growth rate shows a sharp decline at high salt concentrations. Moreover, bacterial cells exposed to increased salt exhibited striking morphological changes: cells became elongated and formed long chains. We conclude that H. pylori exposed to high levels of salt in vitro exhibit a defect in cell division."

So, if I understand this right, the high salt causes extreme stress to the H pylori and it's actually a stress responce to the salinity on the part of the bacteria that causes the damage to human stomach linings. Avoid stressing the H pylori and no peptic ulcer, perhaps? Relationships are sure complicated--whether it's between two people, two nations, or two species.


kenju said…
Dave, is it possible to just get rid of the H. pylori - and not have to worry about stressing it? Is there an antibiotic that it responds to?
utenzi said…
Sure thing, Judy. Antibiotics are the main strategy used against H pylori when treatment is deemed neccesary. Since most people are non-symptomatic, anti-B's are only used in bad cases.
Paul said…
OK, I think I understand, but if you said it in Greek, maybe...

Howdy. Here from Michele's tonight.
Yaeli said…
Once again I have learned something new from you today Dave!
Hope you're well!
Carmi said…
You seriously should consider doing media spokesperson work. You have an incredible ability to take impossibly complex concepts and explain them with stunning clarity.

How sad that high salt intake is associated with greater consumption of processed foods. If only we as a society could get back to simpler choices.
RC said…
So that's why my grandma's farts stink, but she also smells like old socks and sweat. Think there might be a relation?

Hi, Michele sent me!

Thanks for the info, utenzi! This could help my mom out, and hopefully grandma. Have a nice weekend!
Bob-kat said…
You said - no matter what the realtionship it is always incredibly complicated. I think you might have put your finger on one of the finite laws of the universe there! LOL!

Great explanation as always and very interesting.
Becky68 said…
That's really interesting, being a salt lover I guess I'm in line for an ulcer eventually myself!
Here from Micheles.
srp said…
Helicobacter pylori used to be called Campylobacter pylori... those microbiologists are always changing the names on things.

It is also implicated in an increased risk for gastric carcinoma. It can be cleared by antibiotics but has a tendency to recur.

Not only humans are affected... cats with inflammatory bowel disease often have H. pylori in their stomachs.

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