Recently, a patient of mine was noted to have higher than normal hemoglobin A1c levels in her lab studies. Hemoglobin A1c levels indicates how well your body is using insulin and should be within normal range if you are not diabetic or pre-diabetic. However, she was also complaining of frequent heartburn and stomach irritation, so I looked into a possible link between the two. What I found was new research on an old bug that actually linked both her elevated A1c levels and her stomach complaints. I’d like to share this with you as knowing about it could lower your risk for getting type 2 diabetes.
H. Pylori and Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Helicobacter pylori are a common type of bacteria that infects the lining of the stomach and esophageal tissues. You can “catch” an H. pylori bug in many ways – most people get one as a child and carry it through their lifetime unnoticed.
Researchers disagree with exactly how people get infected with H. pylori – some say it can be transmitted through saliva via kissing, or mothers can pass it to their children, eating someone else’s unfinished food, or perhaps even snuggling too closely with a pet dog or cat who can carry the bug. One thing is agreed on though, H. pylori infections seems to run in families.
However you acquire an H. pylori bug infection, it may lay dormant and never cause you any trouble. Or, it may become active and cause inflammation of your stomach lining, which can lead to chronic gastritis, heartburn, ulcers, or even cancer. The good news is, though, once detected, the bug can successfully be eradicated with antibiotics.
Recent research out of New York University’s Langone Medical Center has also tied the H. pylori bug to an increased risk of the development of type 2 diabetes. This is because it affects two hormones in your stomach that are responsible for regulating glucose. These particular hormones cannot regulate glucose adequately in the presence of H. pylori and you can become ‘insulin resistant’. This means that your body just doesn’t utilize insulin correctly and your blood sugar levels can be a little higher than normal and also raise your hemoglobin A1c levels.
In addition, the NYU study stated that people who are already overweight with a higher BMI (body mass index) who also have an H. pylori infection are at twice the risk for development of type 2 diabetes. The researchers of this study concluded that perhaps testing for H. pylori infection, and treating it with antibiotics if positive, would go a long way in reducing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Similarly, wiping out an H. pylori infection may also help treat type 2 diabetics – helping to optimize their insulin output and possibly decreasing the amount of medications they need. It could also help prevent progression of type 2 diabetes and its side effects.
Symptoms of H. Pylori Infection
An H. pylori infection usually has some telltale signs that indicate its presence, especially if it’s active. These include:
- Chronic heartburn or gastritis (an aching, burning sensation in stomach which can be mild or severe)
- Bad breath – the cause of this actually arises from the inflamed stomach tissues, and incomplete digestion of foods
- Nausea/vomiting, particularly after eating heavy fatty or spicy foods
- Frequent burping
- Bloated stomach
In addition, with the findings from the new research mentioned above, I feel it might be wise to test people with existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes for an H. pylori infection. Also, in non-diabetics, if your hemoglobin A1c levels are chronically elevated, testing for H. pylori infection may explain why. Treating the infection could help lower your A1c levels and lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
If you experience the following symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately:
- Bloody stools/vomit that looks like coffee-grounds
- Difficulty, or pain, swallowing
- Severe and persistent abdominal pain
How Is H. Pylori Infection Found and Treated?
If you have any of the above symptoms and would like to get tested for H. pylori, there are two ways to do so:
- Blood test – blood is drawn from your arm and tested for the bacteria.
- Breath test – a special breath analysis machine can quickly test your breath in about 10 seconds to determine if H. pylori are present. You will have to drink a special preparation before breathing into the testing apparatus.
I feel that finding a link between H. pylori infection and type 2 diabetes is real progress towards preventing, and perhaps even treating existing diabetes. If you feel you may have this infection, ask your doctor about getting tested for it. It could go a long way to preserving your health.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
H. Pylori Infection, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/h-pylori/DS009/DSECTION=symptoms
H. Pylori Bacteria Linked to Blood Sugar Control in Adult Type II Diabetes