H. pylori bacteria infect the stomach lining and cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Foods to avoid with H. pylori include spicy or greasy foods, and things containing a lot of caffeine or milk. H. pylori diets should include foods that reduce inflammation such as berries, broccoli and green tea.
People who experience symptoms of H. pylori infection should avoid caffeine and alcohol as well as foods that are very spicy or fatty.
What Is H. Pylori?
Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that is easily passed from one person to another through saliva. It can also be transmitted via water or food that has been contaminated by fecal material. Once in the body, H. pylori take up residence in the cells of the lining of the stomach.
Despite the low pH of gastric juice in the stomach, H. pylori have adapted to the harsh, acidic environment. They infect cells within the mucosal layer of the stomach, which protects the stomach tissue from the corrosive properties of gastric acid. They migrate from old cells to new cells to avoid destruction when dead cells are cast off.
Symptoms of H. Pylori Infection
Not everyone who has H. pylori experiences symptoms. In some people, the presence of H. pylori can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, a condition called gastritis, which can develop into peptic ulcers. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of H. pylori include:
- Burning stomach pain
- Decrease in appetite
- Bloating and excessive burping
- Pain that worsens when the stomach is empty
If the infection is not treated, gastritis can worsen and cause portions of the mucosa to erode. These eroded areas of the stomach lining are called peptic ulcers and may cause bleeding in the stomach. In some cases, H. pylori puts people at risk for stomach cancer due to chronic inflammation of the mucosa.
A more serious condition, such as ulcers or cancer, will present with additional symptoms. The Mayo Clinic advises individuals to seek medical attention if their stool becomes black or bloody or if they vomit blood or black materials. Other symptoms that cause concern include severe, prolonged stomach pain and experiencing difficulty when swallowing.
Testing and Diagnosis
Two tests for H. pylori involve detecting evidence of the bacteria based on the body's response to it. A breath test analyzes exhaled gases when the bacteria convert urea into carbon dioxide. This test can only be performed if the patient is not taking antibiotics or other medications to treat H. pylori symptoms. A blood test detects the presence of antibodies produced in response to H. pylori, which may be present even if the infection has been cured.
A stool test and a biopsy are two ways to detect the presence of actual bacterial cells in the body. Fecal material contains H. pylori cells shed from the stomach lining. During an endoscopy, cells are collected directly from the stomach lining.
Foods to Avoid
While diet does not cause gastric inflammation or ulcers, certain types of foods can worsen an irritated stomach lining. Some substances stimulate acid production and can trigger inflammation in the mucosa of people infected with H. pylori include caffeine, milk, peppery spices, onions and garlic. Foods high in fats, especially animal fats, also cause irritation.
Caffeine is found in tea and coffee and is also present in chocolate and some sodas. Coffee contains other compounds that also trigger acid production and cause irritation, so even decaffeinated brews should be limited. A small amount of milk is OK but drinking more than a couple of cups per day may make symptoms worse.
Spicy foods are known to cause inflammation in some people, but certain foods can be tolerated by individuals if they do not cause discomfort or other symptoms. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center also recommends limiting fried foods and other high-fat foods such as lard, butter, heavy cream, bacon and sausage due to the irritation they cause to the stomach lining.
Alcohol and Pain Medications
Alcohol is another substance that increases inflammation in the stomach and can worsen symptoms of H. pylori. Drinking alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
Certain types of pain relievers also have a corrosive effect on the mucosa. Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen irritate the stomach lining and increase the risk of ulcers forming in patients who have gastritis, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
H. Pylori Diet
H. pylori infection causes an inflammatory response in the body that leads to gastritis. If left untreated, the inflammation can cause ulcers to develop when areas of stomach lining are eroded and can also result in stomach cancer. A 2016 study published in the Central European Journal of Immunology found that compounds called flavonoids in some foods have an anti-inflammatory effect and can help to prevent injury to the mucosa caused by the bacteria.
Flavonoids are compounds found in plants, including many types of fruits and vegetables and tea leaves. Citrus fruits and legumes are high in flavonoids, and berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are also good sources of flavonoids. These foods are also high in fiber, which reduces stomach acid.
Flavonoid-rich foods are an important component of an H. pylori diet to help minimize inflammation. Drinking decaffeinated tea, especially green tea, can also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Red wine and dark chocolate are also beneficial when consumed in moderation.
Treating H. Pylori Infections
Avoiding trigger foods and incorporating more flavonoid-rich foods can minimize inflammation caused by H. pylori. A 2016 research review published in the journal Gastroenterology Review states that other foods may help to inhibit the spread of the H. pylori due to their antibacterial activity in the body. Some bacteria-fighting foods for H. pylori diets include:
- Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
- Oak and manuka tree honey
- Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids
When H. pylori causes an acute gastritis attack, eating may make your stomach feel worse. It may help to switch to a liquid or bland diet for gastric pain until symptoms improve. Juices, broths, cooked cereals and cooked fruits and vegetables may be easier to tolerate.
While dietary changes can reduce inflammation and combat the spread of H. pylori bacteria, other therapies may be needed to eradicate the bacteria or resolve symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed to kill the bacteria population. Medications that block stomach acid production can help with pain due to inflammation and help the tissue to heal.
- Mayo Clinic: “Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) Infection”
- University of California Davis: "How H. pylori Thrive in Highly Acidic Stomach"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus: “Tests for H. pylori”
- Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: "Avoiding Gastric Stimulants"
- Gastroenterology Review: "Diet and Helicobacter Pylori Infection"
- NCH Health Care System: "Gastritis"
- Central European Journal of Immunology: " The Inhibitory Effect of Flavonoids on Interleukin-8 Release by Human Gastric Adenocarcinoma (AGS) Cells Infected With CAG PAI (+) Helicobacter Pylori"
- Oregon State University: "Flavonoids"