Did You Know? Bacteria causes gastritis and ulcers

Did You Know? Bacteria causes gastritis and ulcers

Stomach ulcers and gastritis

Our stomach, with a pH of 1.5 to 3.5, presents the harshest environment for life to thrive. Gastric acids, primarily hydrochloric acid, are responsible for the acidic pH. For years, it was believed that no microbes, including bacteria, could live in the hostile environment of the stomach and cause any disease. Yet, people suffered from recurrent gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach) and peptic ulcers (breaking of the stomach lining). Their lifestyle was blamed for their condition. 

In 1982, two Australian doctors, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren made a discovery that shook our understanding of gastritis and ulcers in the stomach. After studying many patients with ulcers, they found that bacteria, not lifestyle, is the causative agent. They also isolated and grew this bacteria in a lab to study them further. Their theory met with so much scepticism that Dr Marshall had to drink a concoction containing the lab-cultured bacteria to prove that he would develop ulcers! Indeed, in just three days, he developed symptoms of gastritis—nausea, bad breath, and vomiting. For their groundbreaking work, Dr Marshall and Dr Warren were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine.

Today, this notorious bacteria, which has specially adapted to the acidic environment and found only in the human stomach, is called Helicobacter pylori. It cleverly enters the mucous lining of the stomach and causes inflammation. We now know that certain types of cancer in the stomach, like lymphoma, are also the bacteria’s doing. It is estimated that half of the world’s population have the bacteria in their stomach, but only a few develop infection leading to ulcers. Akin to other bacterial diseases, antibiotics are currently used to treat stomach ulcers.

The discovery of a bacterial cause for a chronic disease like gastritis and ulcers has now enthused scientists to probe other chronic inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis, further. 

Could other microbes be lurking in our body and causing havoc? These are questions scientists will answer hopefully soon!