I’m consistently surprised by how many messages I receive about how I healed from H.pylori. I mentioned being diagnosed with it in passing here and there and somehow, people find me on social media or through my website and send DMs and emails asking how I treated it. I decided it was time to answer their questions in a post.
Please, remember, I’m not a doctor. I have no medical background whatsoever. If you think you have H.pylori or have been diagnosed with it, consult a doctor. Again, I am not your doctor and this is not medical advice.
What is H.pylori?
Helicobacter Pylori – H.pylori – is a type of bacteria that causes infection and inflammation in the stomach. It’s the primary cause of peptic ulcers and can also cause gastritis. People with H.Pylori are also at an increased risk of developing stomach cancer. It’s not uncommon. It’s estimated that 30-40% of people in the United States are infected with it and it’s even more common in developing countries and Eastern Asia. Some statistics show up to 50% of the world’s population to be infected with some developing countries having infection rates as high as 80%.
People become infected from drinking contaminated water (hence the high rates of infection in developing countries without access to clean water), food, and utensils as well as through saliva and or other bodily fluids. For the vast majority of people, H.pylori doesn’t cause symptoms. But for some, it attacks the lining of their stomach which protects the stomach from the acid used to digest food. Once enough damage has been done, symptoms start to appear.
What are H.pylori symptoms?
Symptoms of an H.pylori infection mimic a number of other stomach ailments and can include:
- Burning sensation that may come and go and worsen when the stomach is empty
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
How is H.pylori diagnosed?
The gold standard is a breath test. There are also stool and blood tests. Some doctors may opt for endoscopy where a sample will be taken from the stomach to test for the bacteria while they look around your esophagus and stomach for a better idea about what’s going on in there. There are “at home” tests that absolutely are not reliable and should not be used for medical diagnosis.
Now that the details about h.Pylori are out of the way, let’s get into how I found out I had it, how I treated it, and ultimately, how I eradicated it.
How did you find out you had H.pylori?
I was running a mile at CrossFit on a Saturday morning when a burning sensation settled in just below my breastbone. I didn’t think much of it. It was August 2020 and I was getting back into the swing of CrossFit after months of the gym being closed due to COVID. I’ve never been a runner and figured it was just my lungs burning in protest at how hard I was asking them to work once more.
But it didn’t go away. It lasted most of the day. In hindsight, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day, too busy to sit down to a meal or even eat a protein bar on the go. Once I ate that night – pizza and breadsticks of all things – the pain went away and I thought nothing more of it.
Except it kept coming back. It would come and go at first, but started to stay more than go. I didn’t really have any other symptoms aside from the burning. I didn’t lose my appetite and since I had a history of digestive issues (gluten sensitive and lactose intolerant), bloating was pretty common as were inconsistent stools. Eventually, my pain settled into my mid-back as well. It felt like someone was pushing into the space at my bra line almost constantly. Three weeks in, things weren’t getting better, but worse. During my grad school orientation weekend, I struggled to focus due to the pain. I made a doctor’s appointment.
My doctor’s initial diagnosis was GERD which has the same symptoms. She thought it could be an ulcer or maybe gastritis caused by NSAID use as I’d had a stubborn kidney stone earlier in the summer and took a lot of ibuprofen to combat the pain over several weeks. She prescribed 40mg of Omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), suggested I eat a bland diet for a couple of weeks, and just to be safe, ran a few blood tests to check my liver and pancreas function. She threw in an H.pylori test too, but said “you won’t have this, but let’s just check.”
Three days later, she called to let me know I did, in fact, have H.pylori and needed to start antibiotics immediately. She was also almost certain I had a peptic ulcer although I never underwent an endoscopy to find out for sure.
What was your treatment?
H.pylori treatment is brutal.
It is an extremely resistant infection and so the best line of defense is what doctor’s refer to as “triple therapy” – two potent antibiotics and a PPI over the course of up to fourteen days. Some may prescribe quardrube therapy which is three antibiotics plus the PPI. I took Clarithromycin and Metronidazole and my PPI was increased from 40mg to 80mg. I took one antibiotic every eight hours and the other every twelve. I also took a 40mg PPI every twelve hours. My doctor prescribed my antibiotics for the full fourteen days.
Because H.pylori is notoriously difficult to kill, she strongly recommended I take my antibiotics and PPI exactly as prescribed. No missed doses, not even a delayed dose. Because we were in the grips of a pandemic, I was home 95% of the time which proved to be helpful in this scenario. I set my Alexa to remind me every eight and twelve hours to take my medication. I didn’t miss a single dose.
What did you eat?
Because my stomach was healing and PPIs reduced my stomach acid levels greatly, I stuck to a very bland diet for several weeks. As antibiotics are hard on one’s system, I also made sure to eat foods with probiotics, the healthy bacteria that you need along your digestive tract. For weeks, I ate the same foods:
- Breakfast: A diced potato cooked in my air fryer and then scrambled with an egg and parmesan cheese (a good parm is a probiotic source!)
- Lunch: Rice, boiled and shredded chicken, and steamed vegetables with a little butter for flavor.
- Dinner: Soup with lots of saltine crackers
- Snacks: This is where I packed in the probiotics. I ate Greek yogurt (usually twice a day), keifer, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and took Good Belly “Belly Shots” I found in the dairy aisle. All of these foods contain probiotics. Check labels and buy quality to ensure you’re getting the good bacteria.
As someone who typically eats a higher protein, lower carb diet and that should be gluten and dairy-free, it wasn’t the most ideal diet. I also love to cook and I love seasoning and spicy foods. Crackers and eggs were not it. But I took my doctor’s advice and ate what my stomach needed me to eat in order to heal. It was not fun. At all.
Did you try any natural remedies?
I’m almost always going to look for a natural remedy when it makes sense, but I’m also very much in support of modern medicine and antibiotics when they are called for. With H.pylori, antibiotics are 100% called for. H.pylori does too much damage and is too hard to kill and the health risks are too high for me to roll the dice and skip the doctor-recommended treatment.
Having said that…
Once I finished my course of antibiotics (and after checking with my doctor who doesn’t “officially” prescribe natural remedies but who will suggest them if the patient asks), I took a round of Mastic Gum which has been shown to combat H.pylori as well as DGL which is good for repairing the stomach lining. I also began taking shots of aloe vera juice before and/or after meals. I continued the DGL and aloe vera for several months even after finishing the mastic gum. I also took a probiotic pill while on antibiotics and for a month after in addition to getting them naturally through food.
Did you wean off the PPI?
I get a lot of questions about weaning off my PPI and the infamous “rebound” experienced during the process. I was started on a PPI with a plan to wean off of them even before we knew I had an H.pylori infection. My doctor doesn’t like to prescribe them long term if possible as they have been shown to have long term effects on the kidneys in people who take them for years. My time spent on PPIs was doubled when my diagnosis was confirmed, but this was my (doctor-led) schedule:
- 80mg (one 40mg pill 2x a day) for a month
- 40mg (one pill a day) for a month
- 20mg (one pill a day in a lower dose – can be bought OTC) for a month
- 20mg every other day for about 10 days
Another reminder that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Consult your own doctor.
PPIs turn off the pumps in your stomach that produce the acid used to digest food. The lower acidic environment allows the stomach lining to heal. When you stop taking them, new pumps form and as the internal environment adjusts to higher levels of acid, there is a “rebound” period where burning and discomfort may return. I experienced this for exactly one evening on my drop from 80mg to 40mg, but I struggled a LOT more with my drop from 40mg to 20mg. It lasted for several days on and off. I had the option to up my PPI dose once more, but I wanted off of them, so I powered through and used Tums and aloe vera juice to combat it. It was uncomfortable but not unbearable.
How long did it take for you to feel better?
A few days into the antibiotics, I realized how bad I had actually felt before antibiotics. I started to have more energy and was back to dancing around my apartment and not feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. That was a nice feeling. However, it took about three weeks before the burning sensation and pain in my back started to truly let up and nearly two full months for it to disappear almost entirely.
People tend to get frustrated or think they aren’t healing. I had a great doctor who explained it to me like this: Your stomach lining wasn’t damaged overnight and so it’s not going to heal overnight. It takes time. I likened it to a skinned knee or surface wound: even as it heals, it still hurts and the new skin that grows over it is tender to the touch. I envisioned my ulcer healing in a similar fashion – it was trying to grow a new lining and heal itself, but it had to battle with food and such sloshing past it, irritating it in the process and slowing down healing.
Patience is key in the healing process.
I was diagnosed Labor Day weekend and by Thanksgiving, I felt mostly better. I was able to eat what I wanted with minimal discomfort.
Did you experience any odd symptoms during healing?
I experienced “die off” beginning about ten days in. I won’t describe it to you, but let’s just say my stomach was quite unhappy for about a week. I also had some pretty intense bloating. Otherwise, I had a rather uneventful go of things. I didn’t even lose weight, which is uncommon when battling an ulcer or gastritis caused by H.pylori. I maintained exactly the same weight throughout.
When did you reintroduce non-bland food?
Around the three week mark I absolutely could NOT eat another plate of rice, boiled chicken, and vegetables. I had to have something else. I ordered a very basic California roll and Philadelphia roll as well as crab rangoon from my favorite Chapel Hill sushi restaurant and was fine. I went right back to bland food and slowly started to incorporate foods from there. If something irritated my stomach, I stopped eating it for a while. I brought in highly acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus last. Citrus was the last thing I was able to reincorporate.
Confession: I never quite gave up coffee during my healing process. Coffee is highly acidic, but I love coffee, right down to the ritual of it. I drank decaf coffee for three months because it’s less acidic and would treat myself to the occasional cold brew (or nitro pumpkin brew because it was fall…#basic) on occasion because cold brew is also less acidic. I drank the half caf coffee for a while, then transitioned back to my full caffeine with no problem.
Any residual effects?
My digestive system is a lot more sensitive now. I had a flare up of sorts in January, no doubt from eating fast food and gas station snacks after a couple of weeks of holiday indulgence while driving from Virginia to Los Angeles. I also ate a fair few take out meals while moving into my L.A. apartment. I was absolutely going to have In-N-Out as my first meal as a Los Angeles resident after all. A week or so of bland foods along with taking DGL and aloe vera juice once more and I was fine.
H.pylori did, however, trigger my celiac disease. I have known I was gluten sensitive for a while, but could get by with eating some gluten with no real consequence aside from some bloating and maybe a sharp stomach pain or two. My doctor warned me that things might be different post treatment and before I moved to L.A., she tested me for celiac. She didn’t tell me I needed to eat gluten for several weeks however and I had already cut it out of my diet once more so I “threw the test.” It came back with higher markers than the previous blood test she did, but still not high enough to indicate celiac.
Then I went on a “gluten binge” as I call it over Easter weekend and my birthday week. I ate a substantial amount of gluten daily for two weeks straight and broke out in hives. A visit to my new doctor and a test later, it was confirmed I’m now full on celiac. Even one gluten-filled cookie causes my rash to erupt. I accidentally bought not gluten-free tortillas the other day and didn’t notice for a couple of days. When I broke out again, I went in search of what I could have possibly eaten as I’m so careful now. It was the tortillas. It’s unfortunate, but it’s manageable – and I don’t want the hives to be as bad as they were after the “binge” as that episode required steroids which is a whole other hurdle.
Otherwise? I’m all good.
Is your H.pylori gone?
I tested for eradication in December, once I was off the PPI and my system had time to regulate itself. Blood tests aren’t accurate post-treatment as the antigen can stay present for a while and result in a false positive so we did a stool test that came back negative for H.pylori. A breath test would have been ideal, but because of COVID, those were limited to only necessary cases. As I had no more symptoms, we felt comfortable doing the stool test. I am, in fact, H.pylori-free.
And there you have it. How I treated and eradicated H.Pylori. I followed the doctor’s orders exactly, took my medicine exactly, and was patient with the healing process. A few months of bland foods and decaf coffee is a small price to pay for a lifetime of no stomach pain.
I hope this has answered your H.pylori questions. As always, my email and DMs are open if you have further questions!