Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Should we attack our dark angel H. pylori? (The concomitant role of H. pylori in Sjogren's syndrome)

Writing my thesis hasn't been easy when there is so much to do. At home a 2-year old that is a hurricane, running my tiny science serious games business is also mandatory, fulfilling my role as the Midlands Ambassador for PARSUK whilst trying to find a job with the scarce seconds I have left to relax, complicates everything even further. 

This very busy agenda has made me aware of how difficult it is to update the blog, and if I do it it's because of my passion for science communication. I could not leave unfinished my Sjogren's syndrome posts on unveiling the concomitant role of Helicobacter pylori in triggering this autoimmune disease. Especially when yet another friend of mine, a woman this time, came to me saying that she has been recently diagnosed with Sjogren's and she actually had a pylori infection prior to the actual diagnosis.


Literature says that a genetically susceptible individual can develop an autoimmune disease such as Sjogren's when the environment conspires to bend and break him. H. pylori being the fierce survivalist we all know remains untouched and no agents can actually get us rid of the bacteria that easy. Tell me about antibiotics, this bug is pretty hardcore hiding and masking its presence. You can very well undergo three courses of broad spectrum antibiotics, most of the times you are just flushing out your commensals and endangering your immune system. And by all means please do not think that because you have an autoimmune disease you have a reinforced immune system working over hours. All you have is a disturbed immune system so rage-drunk a dog it cannot recognise the master hence going bite-happy.

H. pylori is the mail man that really drives our immune system's dog crazy. Hasni et al (2012) talks about findings linking pylori with a deficiency of platelets in the blood [1]. But the most intriguing thing is how does pylori work in repressing our system and surviving such complex and adaptive defenses for longer than 58 000 years ago in human ancestors? Something somehow symbiotic has got to be at stake here, as suggested in [1].

Symbiotic or Amphibiotic?

Could the answer be that whenever we try and treat pylori we switch on a bacterial defense protocol that eventually will lead to unbalanced autoimmune responses? Hasni et al (2012) states that epidemiological data suggest an increase in asthma and autoimmune diseases in populations wherein H. pylori infection is aggressively treated and being eradicated [1].

Point 1: We get to a point where trying to eradicate a bacteria that has been with us for so long and known to cause harm might trigger an immune system imbalance.

Point 2: However, eradication of pylori is not associated to an increase of indigestion in patients with Sjogren's syndrome.

Point 3: Some studies suggest that H. pylori has a protective role in our human biology.

Could it be that we are facing an axiom indicating that H. pylori is likely to be an agent that has a low profile role in our human biology through an amphibiotic relationship (symbiotic or parasitic depending on the context of gastric equilibrium) with us humans?

[2] talks about H. pylori slowly and progressively disappearing from humans' gastric mucosal tissue in the industrialised populations, and with it so are gastric cancer rates falling. What is this dark angel responsible for? Can pylori actually protect us? I don't really think so!

My personal opinion is that as expected H. pylori is terrible for us. But because we are still incapable of getting rid of it that easy it is better to maintain it dormant (reducing stress, changing our diets, etc) and then when really necessary apply a strong, specific and effective pylori treatment. That is in my opinion better than to try and err time and time again with Amoxicillin and Metronidazole that flush away the good guys too. The moment the bacterium recognises it is under attack it will start a process of masking and counterattacking that might as well be responsible for the immune system self/nol-self conflict that characterises Sjogren's syndrome.

Let's explore that in the coming article to be posted as early as January 2016.

[1] Hasni, S. A. (2012. "Role of Helicobacter pylori infection in autoimmune diseases". Curr Opin Rheumatol, 24(4), pp. 429-434.

[2] Blaser, M. J. (???). "Pathogenicity and symbiosis: human gastric colonization by Helicobacter pylori as model system of amphibiosis". nDepartment of medicine and microbiology, NYU School of Mecicine, New York, NY.

Image taken from [2]

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