When you picture someone suffering from a stomach ulcer, the image of a high strung, overworked businessperson probably comes to mind. All those eighty-hour weeks and five martini lunches wreak havoc on the nerves and stomach until one day, whammo! The poor soul feels a burning pain in the gut, courtesy of too much stress and stomach acid.
Until recently, stress and excess acid was the accepted explanation for what caused stomach ulcers. Recent discoveries have completely changed that picture. As it turns out, the culprit most responsible for stomach ulcers is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, or H. Pylori for short. It is bacterial infection, not stress and acid, that causes ulcers.
The stomach’s health depends on a delicate balance between the acids and enzymes used to digest food and the protective layers that line the stomach wall. When the stomach’s self-defense system is intact, the powerful digestive juices do no damage to the stomach itself, even as they attack starch, fat, and protein. But when the stomach’s defenses are breached, a painful ulcer can occur. H. Pylori is an expert at burrowing through the stomach’s protective inner layers.
A resilient little beast, H. pylori survives in the highly acidic environment of the stomach by producing an ammonia generating enzyme that neutralizes stomach acid. Using its corkscrew shape, it penetrates the stomach’s defenses and attaches to the stomach lining. Once in place, it can damage the lining by causing inflammation and by allowing acids and enzymes to attack the stomach wall.
Although this may sound deadly, most stomach ulcers are easily cured–nothing a round of antibiotics and anti-acid drugs can’t cure.