[Last Updated 5th October, 2019]
H. pylori is a very common bacteria.
Many people have it and don’t even realize it. However, it’s sometimes difficult to treat and can cause serious health problems in some cases.
Certain foods and supplements have been reported to fight H. pylori alone and in combination with standard medical treatments.
This article explores how well diet and other natural treatments work against H. pylori.
What is H. pylori?
H. pylori stands for Helicobacter pylori.
It grows in the digestive tract and is resilient to acidic environments (like that of the stomach). Exposure to H. pylori usually occurs during early childhood, and bacteria can survive an entire lifetime if untreated (1, 2).
This isn’t a big problem in most cases. Sometimes, though, H. pylori increases risk for other diseases. These include: (3)
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
- Stomach ulcers
- Stomach cancer
- Mucosa-associated tissue lymphoma
Is H. pylori Contagious?
H. pylori is contagious, and is spread from person to person through saliva or feces.
It can also come from contaminated food or water, or by contact with infected animals (4).
More than half the world’s population has it, but rates are highest in developing countries with high population densities and contaminated water supplies (5).
Summary: H. pylori is a common, contagious bacteria that’s most commonly seen in dense areas with contaminated water, although it’s prevalent in first world countries as well.
Symptoms of H. pylori
Even people who’ve had H. pylori for years may never know they’re infected.
In fact, symptoms only occur in about 20% of all infections.
When present, they include: (6).
- Stomach pain, which often occurs with hunger
- Low appetite
- Black stools.
These symptoms are often related to gastritis and other complications of H. pylori infection, rather than the infection itself (7).
Summary: Symptoms are rare with H. pylori infection and are often caused by complications rather than the bacteria itself. These include indigestion, stomach pain, poor appetite and black stools.
Testing for H. pylori Infection
Tests for H. pylori are typically ordered for patients with chronic indigestion or in those with ulcers, stomach cancer or certain types of cancer (7).
The American College of Gastroenterology also recommends testing for those who are on long-term aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications increase risk for bleeding ulcers (8).
There are a few tests for H. pylori infection:
- The Urea Breath Test involves swallowing a capsule containing urea, then providing a breath sample by breathing into a collection container. The test is non-invasive and usually well tolerated.
- An endoscopy involves a long, thin camera that’s passed down your throat and into your stomach. This is usually done under anesthesia.
During an endoscopy, your doctor can collect tissue samples to test for H. pylori bacteria and also diagnose ulcers and other complications of infection.
- Stool tests can determine whether H. pylori bacteria are present in the stomach.
- Blood tests can tell you if you’ve ever been exposed to H. pylori . But these can’t always determine if the infection is active, because they only measure antibodies that can stay active long after treatment.
Stool or urea breath tests are sometimes repeated after treatment to see if it’s worked.
Summary: Testing for H. pylori is usually ordered when someone shows symptoms of gastritis or other complications. There are a few ways to test for it, including endoscopy, and breath, stool and blood tests.
Triple Therapy and Other Treatments for H. pylori
One of the more common treatments for H. pylori is known as triple therapy, which includes 1-2 weeks of three different medications (9, 10).
- Clarithromycin, an antibiotic
- Amoxicillin or Tinidazole, also antibiotics
- A proton pump inhibitor to reduce stomach acid
Triple therapy has become less successful at treating H. pylori over the past decade. This is mostly because more people are becoming resistant to clarithromycin.
People who’ve frequently used antibiotics may need different antibiotics, and a second course of treatment may be needed if the first doesn’t work (9, 10).
Summary: The first line of treatment for H. pylori is often triple therapy—a combination of antibiotics and acid reducers. H. pylori can be difficult to treat, in part because many people have become resistant to clarithromycin, a key antibiotic in triple therapy.
Do Probiotics Help Treat H. pylori?
Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that can help with H. pylori in a few different ways:
- They’re known for countering side effects from antibiotics.
In one large analysis of 17 studies (including seven studies on H. pylori), those not taking probiotics were more than twice as likely to suffer from diarrhea during treatment than those using probiotics (11).
- Certain strains of probiotics may help kill off H. pylori.
A handful of studies have looked at whether probiotics alone can wipe out H. pylori bacteria. Most have found that certain strains can kill off some but not all.
One analysis of five studies looked at whether the probiotic strain Saccharymyces boulardii (S. boulardii) boosts the effects of triple therapy. In these studies, volunteers took 500-1000 mg of S. boulardii per day for 2-4 weeks.
After treatment, volunteers taking probiotics had significantly less H. pylori bacteria in the digestive tract than those on triple therapy alone (12, 13).
Two more recent studies have challenged this finding somewhat, though. Researchers did not find that S. boulardii killed off H. pylori, but they did discover some potential indirect benefits.
Namely, probiotics may reduce antibiotic side effects and increase the likelihood that treatment is completed (12).
That said, much more evidence is needed before probiotics can be recommended as a front line of treatment. For now, they may be a helpful add-on to conventional therapies (12).
Probiotics are safe for most people and may be helpful during H. pylori treatment. It’s best to ask a doctor or pharmacist which strain would be best for you.
Summary: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. They can help make H. pylori treatment more tolerable by reducing side effects. Certain strains may even help kill H. pylori bacteria when combined with antibiotics.
Diet Changes and Alternative Treatments for H. pylori
Certain foods and supplements are thought to improve symptoms, offset the side effects of drug therapy, and possibly fight H. pylori bacteria.
Diet can help with H. pylori infection in several different ways (13).
Some have been shown to directly help by lowering H. pylori bacteria counts. Others are thought to inhibit a chemical called urease that’s critical for H. pylori to grow in the stomach. Still others act on the immune system, lower inflammation, and make it more difficult for H. pylori bacteria to stick to cell walls in the stomach (14).
We’ll look at some of those foods and alternative treatments here.
Lactoferrin is a protein that’s found in human and cow’s milk.
It has strong antibacterial properties and may help with antibiotic absorption. It’s been studied as a complementary treatment for H. pylori (15, 16).
In one study of 402 adults infected with H. pylori, one group received triple therapy, a second group took 200 mg of lactoferrin twice per day for a week before completing triple therapy, and a third group took the same amount of lactoferrin while undergoing triple therapy at the same time.
This last group saw significantly greater reductions in H. pylori bacteria than the other groups. They also experienced fewer side effects during treatment (17).
Smaller human studies have had similar findings. One even found that those receiving lactoferrin plus triple therapy were completely cured of H. pylori (18).
Lactoferrin is available over the counter in capsule form. It’s best to speak with your doctor before adding lactoferrin or any other supplement to your treatment plan.
Green tea inhibits urease activity (14).
Because of this, researchers have focused on whether it protects against H. pylori.
It has, in fact, reduced H. pylori bacteria counts in rodents, but few studies have focused on humans (19, 20).
In one study of 150 adults, those who drank green tea at least once per week were at significantly lower risk for H. pylori infection (21).
But here’s no strong evidence that green tea is a miracle cure for H. pylori, although it may protect against it to some degree.
Broccoli Sprouts and Other Sulforaphanes
Broccoli sprouts contain substances called sulforaphanes, phytochemicals that help fight disease.
Broccoli sprouts (22).
Sulforaphanes have strong antibacterial properties and have been studied as a therapy for H. pylori.
In one small human study, one group of 25 H. pylori -positive volunteers ate 70 grams per day of broccoli sprouts. A second group of 23 H. pylori -positive volunteers ate 70 grams per day of alfalfa sprouts, which do not contain sulforaphanes.
After eight weeks, the broccoli sprouts group saw reductions in H. pylori bacteria, measured by urea breath and stool tests. However, H. pylori levels returned to normal when volunteers stopped eating broccoli sprouts for eight weeks.
There was no reduction in the alfalfa sprouts group (22).
Broccoli sprout extract was not as effective at lowering H. pylori in another study, but it did show potential in limiting damage from gastritis (23).
While there aren’t enough human studies to know if broccoli sprouts actually help fight H. pylori, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to include them in the diet, along with other vegetables containing sulforaphanes like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Some types of honey are reported to have antibacterial powers against H. pylori.
Others are thought to limit urease activity, making it more difficult for the bacteria to colonize in the stomach (14).
In one study of 150 adults with indigestion, those who ate honey at least once per week were at significantly lower risk for H. pylori infection. This speaks to a potential protective effect of honey (21).
Another lab study found that honey reduced H. pylori bacteria in petri dishes, but it’s hard to determine if this effect extends to treating active infections in humans (25).
Honey doesn’t appear to interact with antibiotics and is safe for most people to use along with medications. However, those with weakened immune systems due to chronic illness may need to avoid unpasteurized raw honey because it can contain bacteria (26).
Fruits and Fruit Juices
Certain fruits and juices appear to slow the growth of H. pylori and make it easier to treat.
The strongest studies have looked at cranberry juice. In one, adults with H. pylori who drank cranberry juice had a significantly higher cure rate than a placebo group after 90 days. However, it’s important to note that the study was sponsored by a cranberry juice company (27).
There are a couple of possible reasons for this. Lab studies show that cranberry juice may make it more difficult for H. pylori to adhere to cell walls. It’s also thought to slow the growth of H. pylori in the stomach (14).
Other fruits—including berries, apples, pomegranates and grapes—may be beneficial as well.
One lab study showed that berry extracts boost the effectiveness of the antibiotic clarithromycin. Other studies have found that certain fruits may fight off H. pylori bacteria on their own (28, 14).
Fruits may also help reduce the risk of complications from H. pylori . One large observational study found that higher fruit intake reduced the risk of certain types of stomach cancer in those with H. pylori (29).
While all of these findings are promising, there’s still much to learn about H. pylori and fruit intake. Fruits are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, so it makes sense to eat a couple of servings per day regardless.
Omega-3 and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been said to fight off H. pylori bacteria.
One type of omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been of particular interest in H. pylori research.
A recent study found that higher doses of DHA caused greater reductions in H. pylori bacteria in lab dishes.
In the same study, DHA supplements alone killed off H. pylori bacteria in half of a group of mice, which was a lower success rate than standard medications. However, they did find that DHA added to standard treatment resulted in a 100% cure rate and prevented the recurrence of infection (30).
A comparison of H. pylori infection rates in mice receiving standard treatment, DHA supplements, or a combination of both. The dark bars indicate H. pylori negative, while white is positive (31).
Overall, results have been mixed regarding the effects of omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) on humans. Some studies have found them to lower H. pylori counts, while others have shown little effect (14).
Like other foods mentioned in this article, omega-3 fats have many health perks. It makes sense to eat a couple of servings of fatty fish per week, regardless of any potential effects on H. pylori.
Herbs and Spices
Several herbs and spices are reported to help with H. pylori infection including:
- Garlic contains chemicals with strong antibacterial properties. In lab studies, it’s been proven to reduce H. pylori activity.
In one observational study of more than 8,000 adults, those who ate raw garlic were significantly less likely to be infected with H. pylori . But other human studies have failed to link garlic consumption with lower H. pylori risk. (32, 33).
- Curcumin is found in the spice turmeric and is the subject of many health claims, including reduction of H. pylori bacteria.
Results have been mixed in animal studies. Meanwhile, two small human studies found it ineffective at reducing H. pylori bacteria, though volunteers in one study reported some relief from indigestion (34, 35).
Turmeric may be a good spice to add to your diet, but there’s not enough evidence to support supplementing with curcumin capsules at this time.
- Ginger has been reported to lower stomach acid, which means it could inhibit H. pylori growth—at least in theory (36).
In one study, gerbils fed 100 mg of ginger per kg of body weight per day for three weeks prior to H. pylori infection had lower bacteria counts than gerbils not given ginger. The gerbils who were fed ginger also had less stomach inflammation (37).
Data on humans, however, is very limited, but there’s no reason not to eat ginger.
- Cinnamon has also shown to be effective in lowering H. pylori counts in lab dishes, but it failed to lower bacterial levels in the lone human study to date (14).
Summary: Many foods and supplements have been reported to fight off H. pylori . Lactoferrin, a protein found in milk, is one of the most proven. Foods like vegetables, fruits, omega-3 fatty acids, honey, green tea and herbs may also be helpful, though there is still limited evidence to support this.
Can Diet and Natural Remedies Help with H. pylori Infection?
Recent research has focused on the role of diet and other natural therapies for H. pylori infection.
Certain foods and substances may help kill off bacteria. Others fight inflammation, boost the immune system and make it more difficult for H. pylori to grow in the stomach.
Unfortunately, data on these claims are still somewhat limited. Many studies have found certain foods to be helpful in animals or in lab dishes, but human studies have shown only modest benefits.
Probiotics, lactoferrin and cranberry juice have shown the most promise in humans, but mostly when they’re combined with triple therapy and other standard medical treatments.
Other foods—like broccoli sprouts, fish oil, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices—may or may not help. But they’re all nutritionally dense, so eating them comes with many other benefits as well.
Overall, there’s still a lot to learn about the role of diet in H. pylori infection. For now, the good news is that it’s treatable with medication, and may be controlled with specific diet changes.