Mastic Gum Kills H. pylori Eradicating H. pylori Infection Improves Glaucoma
Mastic may be a viable alternative to drugs for more than just the GI tract
By Aaron W. Jensen, Ph.D.
ne of the most important lessons we have learned about human health is that the organs and systems of our body work interactively, like the parts of a precision machine. For the body as a whole to enjoy optimal health, all systems must be maintained in the best possible condition, because the health of any one system can impact that of many others, often in unexpected - even amazing - ways.
Take, for example, the gut and the eye: what are the odds that they would share a certain risk factor for disease? The very idea sounds bizarre, but researchers in Greece are serious when they say that a healthy gut, in terms of being free from infection with the H. pylori bacterium, may improve eye health by reducing the risk for glaucoma.1 We'll look into this surprising claim below.
H. pylori Infection Is Global
To say that infection with H. pylori (short for Helicobacter pylori) is common is an understatement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that two-thirds of the world's population is infected with this ubiquitous organism - that's about 4 billion (!) people.2
Fortunately for most of those people, H. pylori causes them little or no problem. Many of them, however, are not so lucky and suffer a range of digestive symptoms and disorders that may be linked to their infection, such as indigestion, heartburn, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), peptic ulcers,* and stomach cancer. The correlation with ulcers is particularly strong: H. pylori infection causes more that 90% of duodenal ulcers and up to 80% of gastric ulcers.
*Peptic ulcers are of two kinds: duodenal (referring to the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine) and gastric (referring to the stomach).
H. pylori Lives in the Upper GI Tract
H. pylori is a bacterium that happily makes its home in the lining of the stomach and duodenum (also the mouth). The stomach is normally extremely inhospitable to bacteria and other microorganisms, because of its high acidity. H. pylori, however, has cleverly evolved a means to protect itself from stomach acid: it secretes ammonia, an alkaline compound that counteracts the acid, providing protection until the bacteria can burrow through the stomach's mucous lining into the cells just below. There they can wreak havoc on the digestive system, sometimes resulting in the maladies listed above.
H. pylori may be implicated in a
number of nondigestive conditions
as well, including cardiovascular
and cerebrovascular disorders and
other vascular dysfunctions.
Medical researchers believe that H. pylori may be implicated in a number of nondigestive conditions as well, including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disorders and other vascular dysfunctions, such as migraine and Raynaud's disease (impaired circulation in the hands and feet); it has also been associated with diabetes. Even more surprisingly, it now turns out that this malicious little organism may also be involved in the pathology of the eye - specifically, glaucoma.
|How Do You Get H. pylori?|
Scientists believe that H. pylori is commonly transmitted by ingesting food or water contaminated with animal fecal matter, which is often found in places we wish it weren't. It's inevitably present in slaughterhouses, of course, and it's also often found in irrigation water, and sometimes in drinking water. Those are very good reasons for cooking our meat and washing our produce.
In the United States, contaminated meat is probably the most prevalent source of H. pylori. But how prevalent is it, really? A group of researchers in Chicago found out, by going to a local grocery store and purchasing 13 different types of food for evaluation. The results, reported earlier this year at a conference of gastroenterologists in San Francisco called Digestive Disease Week, are disturbing.1 Forty percent of the chicken pieces tested positive for H. pylori, and overall, about one-third of the samples of chicken, shrimp, pork, crab, clams, and fish were infected. Food for thought . . . .
- Schorr M. H. pylori "ulcer bug" can be found in store-bought food. Reuters Health, May 23, 2002.
Glaucoma Is a Leading Cause of Blindness
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, afflicting about 67 million people. In the United States alone, over 3 million people are believed to suffer from this disease, and 300,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.3
Glaucoma is actually a group of related eye diseases, all of them characterized by damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is most often caused by excessive pressure (called intraocular pressure, or IOP) in the aqueous humor, the fluid inside the eyeball. As the pressure builds over time, the optic nerve is damaged, and vision is gradually impaired.
The most common form of the disease is open-angle glaucoma, and damage to the optic nerve may occur insidiously, without any noticeable vision impairment in the early stages. For this reason, and because high IOP can be diagnosed only by an eye doctor (an ophthalmologist or optometrist - not an optician), regular eye exams are important, especially in people over 60.
People infected with H. pylori are
much more likely to become
victims of glaucoma than
IOP can be controlled to some extent with drugs. The most widely used drug for this purpose is timolol (Timoptic®), a topical beta-blocker that can reduce IOP and thus the risk of vision loss (there are also oral drugs for glaucoma). Timolol carries some risk, however, as it may adversely affect serum lipid levels.4
It Pays to Try to Prevent Glaucoma
Some of the modifiable risk factors for glaucoma are hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, which are largely preventable through good diet and regular exercise. Other risk factors, over which one can have little or no control, are advancing age, myopia, eye injury, eye surgery (which is injury of a sort), and a family history of the disease.
The nerve damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed, but with early detection and proper therapy, blindness can be prevented in nearly all cases. Be sure to visit your eye doctor regularly, especially if you have any of the risk factors listed above. And if you do suffer from glaucoma, you will definitely be interested in what follows.
Glaucoma and H. pylori Infection Are Linked
Greek physicians have investigated whether glaucoma patients are infected with H. pylori at the same rate as those without the disease.1 They enrolled 41 patients (aged 45-70) with chronic open-angle glaucoma to participate in the trial, along with 30 age-matched controls (aged 44-70) with no glaucoma. Throughout the course of the 2-year study, all the glaucoma patients were treated with topical drugs (but no oral drugs) for their condition.
Examination of tissue samples removed from the participants' stomachs at the outset of the study showed that the glaucoma patients were almost twice as likely to be infected with H. pylori as the controls: 88% vs. 47%. Statistical analysis of the data showed that there was less than a 1-in-1000 chance that these results had occurred randomly. Thus they are very significant, both statistically and scientifically: they suggest that people infected with H. pylori are much more likely to become victims of glaucoma than uninfected individuals.
This raises an obvious question: If you have glaucoma and are infected with H. pylori, can eradication of the bacteria improve your outlook (literally)? Yes, it can.
Eradicating H. pylori Improves Outlook for Glaucoma
All of the glaucoma patients who tested positive for H. pylori at the outset of the study (36 of the 41) were given "triple drug therapy" to eradicate the infection. This is a standard treatment consisting of two antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (a compound that inhibits acid production). It's an aggressive regimen that is usually successful but that can be associated with unpleasant side effects.
With this treatment, eradication was successful in 30 of the 36 H. pylori-infected glaucoma patients (83%); the other six patients remained infected. When these two groups were compared after one year, it became clear that eradicating the bacteria was beneficial for glaucoma: there was a small but statistically significant reduction in intraocular pressure in the H. pylori-free group, whereas the IOP had not changed significantly in the still-infected group. In addition, three visual-field parameters used to assess eye function had also improved slightly in the H. pylori-free patients, whereas they had become significantly worse in the still-infected patients.
Researchers concluded that
eradication of H. pylori from the
gut improves the outlook for
Since the only difference between the two groups was the eradication of H. pylori from the gut, the researchers concluded that this therapy improves the outlook for glaucoma patients. But the improvements did not last for just one year. Two years after the study began, all the patients were again examined. Surprisingly, the eye health of the H. pylori-free patients was even more improved than it had been after the first year, while the condition of the still-infected patients had continued to decline. That's impressive.
Now - finally - comes the 64-dollar question: How on earth does eradicating H. pylori help inhibit glaucoma? Are you ready? We have no idea - it's a mystery. The Greek authors offer up several diverse and highly technical speculations, but that's all they are: speculations. The field is wide open for research.
Eradicating H. pylori Improves Gut Health Too
Among the 30 patients in whom eradication of H. pylori was successful in the Greek study, five also suffered from peptic ulcers - and all five had their ulcers healed within three months after the triple drug therapy. This is not surprising in light of all the studies demonstrating that eradication of H. pylori is successful in healing both gastric and duodenal ulcers (see "Protect Your Stomach from Deadly Bacteria" in Life Enhancement, May 2001).
Mastic contains an antibacterial
agent that kills H. pylori, and it
inhibits the growth of other
bacteria, such as Staphylococcus
aureus and Escherichia coli.
The medical literature also shows that patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) suffer relapses less frequently following the successful eradication of H. pylori (see "Got Heartburn? Try Mastic!" in Life Enhancement, August 2001). Other research shows that eradicating H. pylori helps protect against stomach cancer. Clearly, H. pylori is the enemy of your stomach - but, as you can see, this enemy can be defeated.
Mastic Kills H. pylori
While triple drug therapy is effective for eradicating H. pylori, it is a nonselective approach that also kills beneficial bacteria in your body. It may therefore compromise the health of your digestive system (which relies on these beneficial bacteria to do its job). It may also lead to some unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headache.
If you're wondering whether there is an alternative to triple drug therapy for eradicating H. pylori, wonder no more. In fact, there is, and it is a much more gentle and natural approach. It's an herbal product called mastic, a resinous gum taken from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), which grows only in certain locations in Greece. Mastic contains an antibacterial agent that kills H. pylori, and it inhibits the growth of other disease-causing intestinal bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. It has been used for thousands of years throughout the Mediterranean region to soothe a distressed digestive tract. And now, thanks to modern research, we know that it may play an important role in eye health too.*
*Although mastic is effective in killing H. pylori bacteria and may therefore be indirectly helpful in glaucoma, the latter is a very serious disease that should be treated only by a medical professional. Never take any chances with something as precious as your vision.
- Kountouras J, Mylopoulos N, Chatzopoulos D, et al. Eradication of Helicobacter pylori may be beneficial in the management of chronic open-angle glaucoma. Arch Intern Med 2002;162:1237-44.
- CDC Fact Sheet for Health Care Providers. Helicobacter pylori. July 1998.
- American Health Assistance Foundation. National Glaucoma Research Program. www.ahaf.org/glaucoma/about/glabout.htm.
- Stewart WC, Dubiner HB, Mundorf TK, et al. Effects of carteolol and timolol on plasma lipid profiles in older women with ocular hypertension or primary open-angle glaucoma. Am J Ophthalmol 1999;127:142-7.
Dr. Jensen is a cell biologist who has conducted research in England, Germany, and the United States. He has taught college courses in biology and nutrition and has written extensively on medical and scientific topics.