Bomb the Bacteria With Yogurt DrinksA team of Korean scientists announced on Tuesday that they have decoded the genetic makeup of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes gastric cancer. They are paving the way toward a cure for the most fatal form of cancer found among Koreans.
H. pylori, first discovered in 1982, lives in the stomachs of most of the people in the world. Although the highly acidic environment of the stomach had previously been thought to be inhospitable to bacteria, H. pylori had apparently learned to adapt to it, living in the mucous lining of the stomach.
While this bacterium causes no disease in most people, it is known as a cause for duodenal ulcers, gastric ulcers and gastric cancer. Although there are also other causes for gastric ulcers, such as the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, about 90 percent of the cases of gastric ulcers in Korea are caused by H. pylori.
The risk for gastric cancer is increased by H. pylori infection in childhood. Diets that are high in salt and low in vitamin C place an infected person in a greater risk category, as the damage caused by an H. pylori infection predisposes the person to developing cancer. In fact, the incidence of people infected with H. pylori later developing stomach cancer is four to six times higher than that for other people. This led the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a section of the World Health Organization, to identify H. pylori as a known carcinogen in 1994.
H. pylori is believed to be transmitted orally by means of fecal matter through the ingestion of waste-tainted food or water. The bacterium could also be transmitted from the stomach to the mouth through gastro-esophageal reflux or belching. The fact that Koreans often share food, dipping their spoons into a common bowl of soup, for example, significantly elevates the infection rate here, which is estimated to be about 90 percent of the total population.
To date, the only way to eradicate H. pylori, a treatment recommended for people with ulcers, is through a one- to three-week course of a combination of antibiotics and acid-lowering drugs. According to doctors, about 90 percent of patients respond to the treatment, although some may experience side effects such as diarrhea. Merely treating the ulcer with antacids, without eliminating the bacterium, will result in relapse within four years of treatment.
Enter the new fermented milk, yogurt with cultures added to suppress the growth of the offending bacterium. Korea Yakult Corp. led the way with the introduction last September of Will, a fermented milk product with Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidus and Streptococcus thermophilus. All these cultures are effective in suppressing the growth of H. pylori.
This was followed by Wiryuk, another fermented milk product, from Namyang Dairy Products. Containing Lactobacillus para casei, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus glutamine, the product claims to not only suppress H. pylori but also aid in healing damaged stomach linings.
Earlier this month, Maeil Dairy Industry entered the race with Gut, claiming benefits for the stomach as well as intestines. According to the company, the immunoglobulin yolk, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria in their product, increase the stomach's resistance to H. pylori and catechins extracted from green tea help to suppress the growth of H. pylori within the stomach lining. In the intestines, Gluco Macro Peptide helps to suppress harmful bacteria and fructo-oligosaccharide aids in lowering cholesterol.
The drinks are enjoying brisk sales. Will sells more than 600,000 bottles a day despite its relatively high price of 1,000 won ($0.80) for a 150ml bottle. But the drinks are functional food that improves health or reduces the risk of a disease － not a cure for H. pylori. Even the researchers who developed these products emphasize that they are health foods effective in preventing ulcers and cancer when ingested by people infected with H. pylori.
The new functional foods may complement antibiotics. In March a French researcher made a presentation at an international symposium in Seoul on the health effects of lactobacillus, that showed that a patient group treated with antibiotics and lactobacillus had 87 percent success in treating H. pylori, while 70 percent of those given only antibiotics were treated successfully. The yogurt drinks may also help keep reinfection at bay by suppressing H. pylori growth after the patients have been treated with antibiotics.
"Research shows that about 80 percent of patients treated with antibiotics will be re-infected within the year," said Lee Jung-lyoul, a researcher at the Yakult Institute, Yongin, Kyonggi Province. He attributed the high reinfection rate to sharing food and drinking from the same glass.
Once you do decide to try the latest yogurt products, how do you get the most benefit? "If you drink just one bottle, have it over the whole day to ensure maximum coating of the stomach lining," advised Mr. Lee. This is because the yogurt passes through the stomach in 30 to 60 minutes and drinking it several times will ensure that the stomach remains coated for maximum period, he explained.
'Drink it over the whole day to keep the stomach lining maximally coated.'
by Kim Hoo-ran