How many of you suffer the occasional bout of heartburn? Judging by the sales of Rennies, Gaviscon and antacids, the answer is quite a few.  What are the chances that over-eating, and in particular indulging in rich food will bring on such a bout?  So how many of you pop into the chemist and include just such a purchase in the run up to Christmas?

I’m flagging this up due to a recent client of mine that was suffering with recurrent H. Pylori, despite numerous courses of antibiotics.  Now this is a fairly common gut pathogen that ‘co-exists’ with many of us, in that we appear asymptomatic – that is – as long as its numbers are kept in check.  We have many such bugs, they’re not exactly ‘pathogens’ but they’re not beneficial either, and if their numbers suddenly bloom and proliferate, they cross a critical threshold and can become problematic.

Such is the case with H. Pylori.  You can Google this little critter, if you have time and inclination, and want to check symptoms but I want to be brief . . .  H. Pylori can cause peptic and duodenal ulcers and very painful inflammation when it’s numbers increase and requires antibiotics to deal with just such an outbreak. The accompanying inflammation often prompts the sufferer to reach for the antacids.  And indeed, when an infection has got hold, an antacid is often prescribed by your GP alongside the antibiotic.

But here’s the thing.  There is a strong association between altered stomach pH and H.Pylori.  In fact, these bugs not only thrive when the pH of the stomach is altered, they actually contribute to an increase in the pH of the stomach environment, because those conditions are favourable to them.  So my take is – don’t create their favoured conditions by regularly altering the pH of your stomach with antacids.  Because this has been my observation – people fall into one of two camps: regular users of antacids, or never user of antacids.  Clearly the antacid is not sorting the problem for these regular users, it’s providing a temporary bandaid.   These products may temporarily soothe heartburn, but they don’t get to the cause of it, and you may inadvertently be encouraging something that’s capable of causing the most serious type of heartburn.

My client incidentally was and had been a regular user of antacids for years, and whilst numerous courses of antibiotics had been temporarily effective at eradicating his H. Pylori, it kept returning, so it’s highly likely that an asymptomatic partner or close family member was reinfecting him – it can be easily passed on by saliva.

So – prevention is better than cure – when you next drop by the chemist in anticipation of requiring heartburn remedies, try Slippery Elm, and Aloe Vera juice (which taken on an empty stomach will soothe and reduce inflammation, without altering the pH), then once inflammation has subsided encourage healthy levels of stomach acid by supplementing Betaine and Hcl with meals, and starting meals with bitter dark green salads, watercress etc, which stimulate stomach acid.  Healthy levels of stomach acid will keep H. Pylori in check.

And of course, eat smaller meals, and more modest portions of protein in the evening, because it’s hard to digest and sticks around in the stomach for longer, and avoid eating late at night if you can.  Don’t drink litres of water with or straight after a meal – you’ll simply dilute your stomach acid.  Stomach acid not only digests food – it helps to keep the stomach sterile and inhibit bugs!  Prevention and avoidance is my motto – and with antibiotic resistance becoming a very serious issue, how much better to avoid the need in the first place.

Chuah SK et al., (2011) A new look at anti-Helicobacter pylori therapy.World Journal of Gastroenterology. 17(35):3971-5.