Ulcer causing bugs may not be all that bad for you. Recent research has confirmed previous work linking Helicobacter pylori to reduced chances of developing childhood asthma.
The researchers from New York University School of Medicine, who published their report in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, based their work on data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey about asthma and allergy history. This involved about 8000 adults.
The results showed that people infected with a particular strain of H. pylori had a 21 percent decreased risk of having asthma and a 23 percent decreased risk of allergies compared to people without the bug. In addition, the researchers found that when the infection with H. pylori occurred before the age of 15, the odds of having asthma were reduced by 37 percent, and the odds of allergies were reduced by 45 percent.
Says the study's co-author, Dr. Martin Blaser, chairman of the department of medicine and a professor of microbiology at NYU: " Helicobacter pylori has been found to be strongly associated with ulcer disease and stomach cancer, and there's a widespread belief that this organism is a pathogen.
"We have evidence that helicobacter used to be ubiquitous in the environment, and it used to be acquired in childhood.
"Now, we have a generation of children growing up with helicobacter in their stomachs to help regulate immunity and maybe protect against asthma and allergy. This could be an unintended consequence of all the antibiotics used in children.
"It's possible helicobacter is protecting against asthma to some degree, and, as it disappears, we're losing that layer of protection, which may explain why asthma, especially childhood asthma, is rising," he said.
Another point is that Gastroeosophogeal reflux disease (GERD) is on the increase in the developed world, akin to asthma. There is also a link between them; asthma patients are twice as likely to suffer from GERD as non-asthmatics, and it's believed that the stomach acid causes lung injury. It might not seem obvious, but H. pylori infection is actually thought to be protective against developing GERD.
Though Blaser agrees that additional research needs to be done to confirm the association and then to figure out what to do with this knowledge, he adds that many physicians think all H. pylori infections need to be treated, even those not causing ulcer symptoms.
" Helicobacter is part of the natural human body. It's quite ancient in humans and has been living in the human stomach for a very long", he opines.