H. pylori may cause, or at least contribute to, many symptoms outside the digestive system of infected people. These symptoms are known as 'extragastric manifestations' of H pylori. Research is recovering associations with more and more extragastric symptoms and diseases. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Depression & anxiety
- Low energy / fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Brain fog
- Sleep problems
- Rapid weight loss
- Weight gain
- Skin problems such as urticaria and rosacea
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Sinus problems
When we take the time to understand how our bodies work, it is easy to see how H. pylori infection may lead to symptoms elsewhere in our bodies. Science is now recovering some very interesting links between H. pylori and seemingly unexplained symptoms and health conditions. Whilst an 'association' does not mean that H pylori infection causes these symptoms and diseases, it suggests that the infection may play a role in their development, or aetiology.
Can you recall a time when you had a common cold, or a 'flu' infection? I'll bet you felt extremely tired and you may even have bed-ridden for a couple of days.
There is a good reason for this. When you have an infection, your body has to mount an immune response in order to try to eliminate the infectious organism. That organism can be a parasite, a virus or a bacterium like H pylori, for example.
The immune response requires a lot of energy and so your body naturally diverts its energy production to fuel the fight against the invading 'bug'. It does not really matter whether this invader is a common cold or a digestive infection – the result is exactly the same.
The problem is that H pylori bacteria are extremely difficult for your body to deal with and the immune response may not be enough to clear it. Whilst it's there, however, a continuous response is required and this takes its toll on your energy levels.
In addition to the immune response, H pylori can exert other negative effects on your body that may lead to you feeling tired and drained.
First, it causes inflammation (in the stomach, this inflammation is called gastritis). Studies have clearly shown that chronic day-to-day infection can lead to fatigue and many other symptoms. One such study was conducted by Su et al, where patients were given therapy with a chemical that is known to cause inflammation (called interferon gamma). The researchers asked the patients what symptoms developed as a result of them being "inflamed". The symptoms reported included:
- Arthritic pains
By definition, if H pylori causes chronic inflammation, it has the potential to lead in the long term to all these symptoms and, indeed, that's what I've seen in my clients year after year.
It should also be noted that H pylori infection can cause a decline in hydrochloric acid production in your stomach. If you do not have enough acid, it can be a lot harder to digest food. Research has demonstrated time and time again that infection with H pylori bacteria can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and B12 deficiency, both of which can also make you feel tired.
Finally, some studies seem to indicate a relationship between H pylori infection and autoimmune thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland is very important for regulating energy levels, motivation and 'drive'. If its function is compromised, lethargy and fatigue can develop.
In conclusion it is clear that digestive infections such as H pylori are not responsible for digestive symptoms alone. In fact, the digestive symptoms that are caused by the likes of Helicobacter infection are just the tip of the iceberg. If you are infected with H pylori and you feel tired or have mood imbalances like depression and anxiety, eradicating H pylori could have the missing link for you.