The (herbal) noose tightens on H. pylori and ulcers


The (herbal) noose tightens on H. pylori and ulcers

Within the last decade, researchers discovered that most upper gastrointestinal tract ulcers are accompanied by infection by the organism Helicobacter pylori. Whether the organism causes the ulcers or hitchhikes on ulcers already formed, getting rid of the infection now appears to be essential for ulcer healing. Researchers recently conducted a meta-analysis review of 60 studies on H. pylori eradication involving more than 4300 patients (Treiber and Lambert). The results showed that healing was dramatically improved by eliminating H. pylori. If the elimination was not complete, other treatments alone did not reach the effectiveness of eradication. In fact, eradication alone produced healing in some instances with no other treatment.

Even if an infectious organism was only recently discovered in ulcers, naturopathic herbal treatments for ulcers have traditionally included antibiotic and immune-stimulating herbs, in addition to demulcent and astringent agents. Tables 1 and 2 show, respectively, Robert's Formula and Bastyr's Formula, as taught in naturopathic medical schools for at least the last twenty years. Note that both formulas contain goldenseal. The plant contains the alkaloid berberine, which has broad spectrum antibiotic action against a wide variety of organisms. At least one clinical trial showed that berberine sulfate was in the same range of effectiveness as the drugs gentamicin; terramycin, and furazolidone for eradicating or reducing H. pylori infection. (Hu). Another recent trial showed that extracts of the berberine-containing Coptis chinensis also strongly inhibited H. Pylori growth (Bae et al.). Constituents of echinacea, baptisia, and althea have all been demonstrated to have immunostimulating properties as measured by various parameters, although they have not been tested specifically in ulcers.

Another traditional treatment for gastrointestinal infection is garlic. A group of scientists, noting the connection between H. pylori and gastric cancer, and the lower incidence of gastric cancer among people who eat garlic, tested the hypothesis that garlic might kill H. pylori. They made a simple water extract of garlic, and then standardized it for thiosulfinate content. Thiosulfinate content of garlic -- allicin being the most abundant member of the group -- is variable, ranging from 2 to about 9 mg per gram of crushed garlic (Koch and Lawson). Forty micrograms of thiosuflinate per ml of the garlic extract was the minimum dose to inhibit H. pylori in the trial. That translates to 40 mg of thiosulfiantes per liter of water, or 4.5 to 20 grams of garlic, or about 1.5 to 6.5 garlic cloves in a liter of water. Thiosulfinate content is maximized by crushing or blending the cloves fresh, and is greatly reduced in dried products or garlic oils. The authors suggested that such a mixture might make an effective treatment for H pylori infection. An Italian trial found similar inhibition for a fresh garlic extract, rather than for the isolated thiosulfinate constituents (Cellini et al) and also found a syngeristic effect between garlic and the drug omeprazole in killing H. pylori in vitro. Another trial underway in China is utilizing steam distilled garlic oil and aged Kyolic garlic (Gail et al.). Both these garlic forms have much of their antibacterial properties destroyed or removed, and may not be as effective as the fresh preparations described above.


Bae EA, Han MJ, Kim NJ, Kim DH. Anti-Helicobacter pylori activity of herbal medicines. Biol Pharm Bull 1998 Sep;21(9):990-2

Cellini L, Di Campli E, Masulli M, Di Bartolomeo S, Allocati N. Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by garlic extract (Allium sativum). FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol 1996 Apr; 13(4):273-7

Gail MH, You WC, Chang YS, Zhang L, Blot WJ, et al. Factorial trial of three interventions to reduce the progression of precancerous gastric lesions in Shandong, China: design issues and initial data. Control Clin Trials 1998 Aug; 19(4):352-69

Hu FL. Comparison of acid and Helicobacter pylori in ulcerogenesis of duodenal ulcer disease. [Article in Chinese] Chung Hua I Hsueh Tsa Chih 1993 Apr;73(4):217-9, 253

Koch HP and Lawson LD Garlic: The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium sativum L. and related species. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1996

Sherman, John. The Complete Botanical Prescriber Corvallis, Oregon: Corvallis Naturopathic Clinic, 1979

Sivam GP, Lampe JW, Ulness B, Swanzy SR, Potter JD. Helicobacter pylori -- in vitro susceptibility to garlic (Alium sativum) extract. Nutr Cancer 1997;27(2):118-121

Treiber G, Lambert JR The impact of Helicobacter pylori eradication on peptic ulcer healing. Am J Gastroenterol 1998;93(7):1080-1084

Article copyright Medical Herbalism.


By Paul Bergner

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