Olive Oil: Tummy Upset Antibiotic!

May 05, 2007

Olive Oil:  Tummy Upset Antibiotic! 

 Competency # 13 Fats                         ReferenceJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Feb 21, 2007 

 Did you know that 20-50% of us carry H. pylori in our stomachs at all times?  H. pylori causes stomach erosions and ulcers.  This happens even more so as we get older.  More if you live in poor conditions and eat lots of pure carbs like rice.  H. pylori is an interesting story you should know a little about.  It is a bacteria that lives in your stomach, and is passed from mother to child with resulting life-long infection.  

In fact, enough of any given population has it that you can tell where in the world people came from by the strains of H. pylori they carry in their stomach.  For example, Amazon Indians can be proven to have come East Asia.  You can map the world’s migration patterns by the distribution of H. pylori.  Each part of the world has its own characteristic genetic strain.  (Great story in Scientific American a year or so back on this topic) H. pylori causes the vast majority of “gastritis” and peptic ulcer disease.  

I was trained to believe that stress and spicy foods made ulcers.  And to get better we had to take Tagamet, then Zantac and other acid-reducing type drugs.  That was wrong.  It was only in the 1980s that  Drs. Marshall and Warren figured out that ulcers were the results of H pylori infections.  They got the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2005 for figuring that out.  We now know that we can cure those ulcers with Amoxicillin, Azithromycin and with Prilosec taken for a couple of weeks.  H. pylori can undoubtedly cause very serious disease.  In parts of remote rural India, emergency surgery for bleeding gastric ulcers is the most common surgical emergency. H. pylori at work. 

 But why has the human species always carried this bacteria?  It’s speculation of course, but one current theory is that H. pylori actually lowers the pH of your stomach, thus protecting you from your own acid production.  So, our bodies have tolerated it as a way of adjusting to the need to have an acid stomach.  We’ve lived in balance with H. pylori.  Some benefit, some harm.  

Now, as we study it in more detail we have discovered that a variety of foods also suppress its growth and help reduce overgrowth.  For example, some studies suggest that broccoli will control it.  Green tea has been shown to control it.  Bismuth (Pepto Bismol) also certainly controls it.  Yes, Pepto Bismol kills H. pylori.  That may be how it actually helps. This week’s "News" comes from Spain, where extra virgin olive oil was found to control it as well.  The phenols in olive oil have an antibiotic effect and were found to be able to kill 8 drug resistant strains of H. pylori.  The dilemma is as follows.  The more we use antibiotics, the more we develop resistant strains of bacteria. We take antibiotics for "bronchitis", "sinus infections" or other low yield URI type infections, and the result is that all the bacteria in our body are affected.  That is holding for H. pylori too.  

And everyone seems to have an upset tummy from time to time with a bit of heartburn.  And we try and ask for antibiotics a little less for minor conditions?  Can we alter our life styles just a bit and make our internal chemistries different, and more conducive to the natural balance that we were created to have had?  That way we don’t need to have an antibiotic.  Maybe eating more natural olive oil can help prevent getting an ulcer?  Well, that may all be conjecture.  But it lines up another reason to eat “whole foods” and more natural unprocessed oils.  But it is an interesting story that goes along with a theme that appears to have some consistency to it. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  One little tiny change a week.  I’m gradually adding a bit more olive oil to my diet.  My salad dressing is almost always olive oil.  And I’ve just added an olive oil jar to our dining room table.  Can I use it instead of butter?  And, Pepto Bismol is back on my shelf for the occasional tummy upset.  Now, can I resist going to the doctor when I get a simple cold and not take antibiotics until I get a fever?

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield WI. (262-784-5300)