Stomach Infection & Stress

DL was 36 years old when she presented with stomach pain, indigestion and bloating after meals. Her GP had diagnosed a Helicobacter pylori stomach infection and prescribed the first round of antibiotics. She was reluctant to take antibiotics and was seeking a holistic approach. She reported consistently high stress levels. She was a student, was working and had 3 children under 6 years old. As she said “I was such a happy go lucky person – and then I had 3 children”. Her energy levels were low, particularly in the afternoon, although she had 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Other symptoms included headaches, mood disturbances, sore muscles, brittle and flaking nails, bleeding gums and cold sores.

Her diet was reasonably healthy, although it was low in fruit and vegetables, with moderate water intake. Eating meat gave her indigestion so she avoided it.

Initial Lab Results
Diagnosed Helicobacter pylori stomach infection

Initial Assessment
H. pylori stomach infection
Low stomach acid
Malabsorption of nutrients
Impaired stress response

Initial Health Optimisation Plan

We agreed on a health optimisation plan that included a natural anti-bacterial agent, as well as targeted supplements for her sluggish digestion, vitamin and mineral depletion, high stress levels and lack of energy:

Mastic gum
Multivitamin and multimineral transdermal spray
Rhodiola rosea, an adaptogenic herb that modulates the stress response
Increased range of fruits and vegetables: red – raspberries, apples, beets, tomatoes; yellow: oranges, nectarines, carrots, butternut squash; blue: blueberries, plums, cabbage, olives; green: avocado, kiwi, broccoli, asparagus, green leaves

The first priority was eradicating the parasite, and mastic gum has shown to minimise H. pylori infections. The infection may have lead to malabsorption of nutrients from the gut, hence a transdermal multivitamin and multi mineral spray was employed to bypass impaired digestion and assimilation in the digestive system. High stress levels were modulated with Rhodiola rosea, a botanical adaptogen which has shown to modulate cortisol levels. Finally the diet was improved with the addition of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

4 Week Follow Up

DL responded very favourably to the protocol. Her digestive symptoms completely resolved and her energy levels had improved significantly. She felt much more able to concentrate on her studies and had much more patience with her children. She felt much more resilient to the stresses of life.

Discussion

Resistance to stress is one of the hallmarks of good health, and DL had been experiencing chronic stress for over 6 years. Psychological stress affects the central nervous system, through the combined action of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands (the HPA axis), and the endocrine and immune systems. The impact of these factors may have inhibited her immune function and increase her susceptibility to infection by H. pylori. The stress response produces cortisol, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, inhibiting the production of prostaglandins. The protective mucus layer in stomach is dependent on prostaglandin synthesis, so high levels of cortisol can weaken this barrier, allowing the proliferation of H. pylori. Over time, chronic stress leads to cortisol dysregulation which impacts energy levels and the body compensates by increasing adrenaline production, leading to fatigue, anxiousness and irritability (the feeling of being tired but wired).

H. pylori impairs stomach acid production which prevents the absorption of nutrients, particularly vitamin B12 and iron, as well as impacting digestion. The release of bile and pancreatic enzymes used to digest food is dependent on the acidic pH produced by the stomach, so inadequate acid reaching the gut can reduce the digestion of food, leading to low nutrient availability, and indigestion. A lack of nutrients can result in a multitude of symptoms, like those experienced by DL: sore muscles, brittle and flaking nails, bleeding gums and cold sores.

The protocol for DL was very straightforward: eradicate the parasitic infection with mastic gum, increase nutrient availability with a transdermal multivitamin and multi mineral spray that bypassed the impaired digestive system, modulate cortisol levels with an adaptogenic herb (Rhodiola rosea) and increase overall nutrition with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. DL was also advised on stress reduction techniques to be employed going forward. Response to the protocol was swift: within 4 weeks DL reported resolution of digestive symptoms, increased energy, reduced perceived stress and anxiety, and a significant improvement in secondary symptoms such as muscle aches and bleeding gums.

Chronic GIT complaints are common and H. pylori may be a factor in their aetiology. While antibiotics may be helpful in eradicating the infection, the mediators and triggers of dysfunction also have to be taken into account. In this case high stress levels and low nutrient availability played a part in symptom progression, and addressing these factors lead to successful symptom resolution.

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