I love cooking and enjoy writing about my kitchen adventures as well as general family health.
The odds are, either you or someone you know is infected with H. pylori, a bacteria that sets up shop in the stomach lining. This bacteria has co-existed with humans for thousands of years1 and can be found in over two-thirds of the world's population.2 While most people will never even know they're infected, in a minority of people the bacteria can cause the development of gastric and duodenal ulcers, cause gastritis (inflammation in the stomach), and lead to an increased risk of stomach cancer.3
The most common symptoms of an ulcer include a burning pain in the abdomen (often right below the ribs). Other symptoms include:3
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Black stools
Conventional Treatment of H. Pylori and Diet
Most people infected with H. pylori will never experience any symptoms or need to seek treatment. If one does, conventional treatment normally encompasses antibiotics, acid-blockers, and possibly other kinds of drugs such as bismuth subsalicylate, and histamine blockers.4
The treatment can be intense and have negative side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.3 This has spurred interest in natural treatments, especially through diet. Though there have been some studies that indicate certain foods can reduce the amount of H. pylori in the stomach, they have not proven successful in eliminating it. It's most likely that changes in diet are most useful alongside conventional treatment in order to expedite healing.
You should talk to your doctor before trying to pursue pursing a natural course of treatment, and you should never discontinue a course of antibiotics or substitute a different treatment without first getting your doctor's opinion.
It is possible, however, to reduce stomach pain to some extent by controlling your intake of foods that are irritating to the stomach and taking some steps to managing your gut health by changing what you eat, even if you cannot eliminate H. pylori through diet alone.
You can also reduce gastric distress overall by eating smaller meals, avoiding eating late at night or close to bedtime, and avoiding eating rich or overly processed foods.
Foods and Substances to Avoid With H. Pylori Infection or Ulcers
|Food or Substance||Why?|
Spicy foods like chilis and hot peppers
These can irritate the stomach
High-fat and fried foods
High-fat foods are difficult to digest
Sugary or highly-processed foods
Can be hard on the stomach
Can increase stomach acid
Acidic foods like citrus fruits, vinegar, and carbonated and caffeinated beverages
Can increase amount of stomach acid and cause irritation
Milk and milk products
Can cause your stomach to produce more acid
Directly related to ulcers H. pylori infections
Ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin, and other NSAIDS
These irritate the stomach lining
Chemicals in cigarette smoke can be irritating
1. Spicy Foods
Avoid spices such as chili powder, black pepper, red pepper, mustard powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mustard seeds. These spices can irritate your stomach, exacerbating your symptoms.6
2. High-Fat and Fried Foods
Cut back on high-fat meat and dairy products. These foods may increase inflammation in the stomach lining. Fatty foods slow down the emptying of the stomach, which can contribute to feelings of bloat or discomfort. You should also try to avoid red meats in your diet.6
3. Processed, Sugary Foods
You should avoid highly processed foods if you're experiencing H. pylori symptoms.6 Highly processed foods are typically low in nutritional value and tend to be high in sugar. They are also low in fiber, which helps regulate digestion. Their artificial colorings and preservatives can cause digestive problems.
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Avoid beverages that can irritate the stomach lining including coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks.6
5. Acidic Foods and Beverages
Acid can make symptoms of ulcers worse,6 so foods to avoid would include tomatoes, soft drinks, citrus fruits, and vinegars. Also avoid any pickled foods, since those have a high vinegar content.
Carbonated beverages and fruit juices (like orange juice or lemonade) are also acidic and should be avoided.
7. Milk and Milk Products
While dairy may feel soothing to drink, it can actually increase the amount of acid in your stomach which would exacerbate your symptoms.6
Alcohol is associated directly with H. pylori infections, so it can contribute to your stomach ulcers or make an existing ulcer worse.6
9. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Medicines like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve) can irritate the stomach lining and make symptoms of an ulcer worse.
If you need to take pain medication with an ulcer or symptoms of an H. pylori infection, you should try using acetaminophen (Tylenol), or another medication recommended by your doctor.4
10. Cigarettes and Smoking
Though smoking will not cause ulcers, they can keep them from healing quickly or make them worse.4
Foods That Can Kill or Help Manage H. Pylori
High in compounds that help prevent H. pylori from sticking to stomach lining
High in flavonoids that help protect the stomach lining
Brassica vegetables like kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.
High in isothiocyanates, which have anti-cancer properties
Contains sulforaphane, a kind of isothiocyanate, which inhibits growth of H. pylori
Helps slow growth of H. pylori
Korean red ginseng
Reduces stomach inflammation
Iron and B12
Though these vitamins don't kill H. pylori, eating them can help replace nutrients that an H. pylori infection makes it difficult for your body to absorb
Helps improve eradication rates of H. pylori along with conventional treatment
Raw or Manuka honey
Shown to have antibacterial abilities against H. pylori
May have antibacterial properties against H. pylori
Might help prevent the bacteria from sticking to the stomach walls
1. Fruits Like Berries and Apples
Rich in antioxidants and high in fiber, fruits can help your body fight off infections, reduce ulcer pain, and combat gastritis.
Berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, highbush blueberries, and bilberry,1 have been found to be especially effective in fighting H. pylori. In these studies, the participants were drinking berry extract, which contains a higher amount of the phenolic derivatives which make them effective against H. pylori. The studies did not specify how much of the raw fruit one would have to eat in order to see benefits from it.
Apples and red grapes are also recommended because they contain flavonoids—chemicals that defend the lining of the stomach.6 You should avoid acidic fruits like citrus because the acid can irritate the stomach lining.
2. Broccoli, Kale, and Brassica Vegetables
Veggies are great to eat because they most of them contain high levels of fiber and lots of antioxidants.
Specifically for H. pylori, a study found that consuming broccoli sprouts can reduce the H. pylori growth in the stomach because of the high content of sulphorafane.1
Brassica (or cruciferous) vegetables include kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, swede, red-headed cabbage, and radishes. All of these have high levels of isothiocyanates, which have shown cancer-fighting properties.1
3. Green Tea
Green tea contains lots of polyphenols, which inhibit the growth and spread of H. pylori. Studies have shown that drinking green tea every day can effectively reduce the amount of H. pylori in your system either before or during conventional treatment.3
4. Korean Red Ginseng
Some studies have shown that ginseng can help with the symptoms of gastritis.7
5. Iron and B12
H. pylori can interfere with the absorption of iron and B12,8 leading to anemia.9 Usually once the infection clears up, the stomach can go back to easily absorbing those minerals.
But in the meantime, your doctor may tell you to take supplements or eat foods rich in iron and B12 like poultry, kale, and beans.
Not all bacteria are bad for you. In fact, this is one of the reasons taking antibiotics can have such negative side effects — they kill all the bacteria, both good and bad.
Maintaining the balance of bacteria in your gut is important for your overall health. According to HealthLine, a 2012 study found that taking probiotics either before or after the standard H. pylori treatment can improve success rate for eliminating the bacteria. It was found that Lactobacillus acidophilus was most effective.3