02 July 2015 by Larissa Long
If you’ve ever dealt with the dull, burning pain of a stomach ulcer, then you’re intimately familiar with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This strain of bacteria is known to cause ulcers and, in rare cases, stomach cancer.
Until the discovery of H. pylori in the early 1980s, doctors blamed stress, spicy food, smoking and other lifestyle habits for ulcers. But now we know otherwise.
Once H. pylori bacteria enter your system, they attack the lining of the stomach. Damage to this protective lining leaves you vulnerable to corrosive stomach acids, which burn holes (ulcers) in the tissues.
Along with pain, other signs of an ulcer include bloating, burping, lack of appetite, nausea/vomiting and unintentional weight loss. Ulcers also may bleed into your stomach or intestines, which could cause even more dangerous problems.
H. pylori is more prevalent in countries that lack clean water. But even in developed parts of the world, you can get it and spread it through saliva or other body fluids. You can be infected for years before experiencing any symptoms. Interestingly, some people with H. pylori never get ulcers, while others do and suffer greatly. And there’s no rhyme or reason as to who gets off easy and who doesn’t!
Doctors can perform a number of tests to diagnose H. pylori. And once they do, several treatment options exist. Usually, patients start on regimens that include proton pump inhibitors (drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid), a mineral called bismuth subcitrate and various cocktails of antibiotics that target and eradicate H. pylori.1
While effective in destroying these ulcer-causing bacteria, antibiotic therapy comes with a host of side effects. The biggest is digestive issues that result from the antibiotics killing off beneficial microbes as well as the harmful ones. This disruption of the delicate gastrointestinal ecosystem can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting.
Knowing the downsides of antibiotics, a team of researchers wanted to see how supplementing with probiotics during H. pylori treatment could aid in eliminating the ulcer-causing bacteria, while also decreasing the risk of adverse reactions.2
The researchers had patients fill out questionnaires that assessed the severity of their ulcer symptoms. Each person then received either 28 probiotic capsules or placebo pills, which they were to take twice a day during the course of their antibiotic therapy.
After two weeks, the researchers determined that a significantly greater number of participants were cured in the probiotic arm versus the placebo. Additionally, after 15 days, those in the probiotic group fared much better when it came to severity of symptoms (pain intensity, bloating, flatulence, taste disturbance, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, rash and diarrhea).
They concluded that adding probiotics to the standard therapy for H. pylori, “significantly contributes to treatment efficacy and distinctly decreases the adverse effects of therapy and the symptoms of the underlying disease.”
This study shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that probiotics are a must if you’re on antibiotic therapy. The friendly microbes not only help to maintain balance and prevent unpleasant side effects, but also improve treatment outcomes.
But the benefits of probiotics don’t end there. In addition to maintaining digestive health, probiotics can help protect against diabetes and other blood sugar imbalances, control weight, enhance immunity and even decrease the likelihood of some cancers.3-7
You can find various strains of beneficial bacteria in fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh, for example). However, if you want to get a good therapeutic dose, your best bet is to take a supplement.
Look for an encapsulated probiotic so that the microbes are protected as they travel through the acidic digestive tract. Also, the product should contain a blend of different types of microbes—including bacteria from the friendly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria families—with at least 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per dose.
Finally, take as directed and remember to store them properly. Some brands require refrigeration.
There’s really no downside to taking probiotics. Definitely add them to your daily regimen when taking antibiotics, but also consider taking them every day as an “insurance policy” against many potential health concerns.