Did you forget where you put your keys for the third time this week? Do you struggle to focus, or feel “out of it,” despite having gotten enough sleep? These are both symptoms of brain fog. 

You might have heard that the gut-brain axis or gut microbiome could be related to your cognitive health. But did you know that SIBO or “LIBO” aren’t always the culprit? Enter H. pylori, an annoying little critter that might just be taking up space in your stomach. 

So what is H. pylori, and what might it have to do with your brain fog? Let’s jump in.

What is H. Pylori?

H. pylori is a type of bacteria that likes to call the human stomach home. At low levels, it won’t cause problems – in fact, about 70% of people have some amount of this bacteria living in their stomachs. But if H. pylori overgrow, it can cause some serious damage.

When problematic, H. Pylori can cause excessive inflammation of the stomach (gastritis), ulcers, and it’s even a risk factor for developing stomach cancer. It’s estimated that 80% of patients with gastric ulcers are infected with an overgrowth of the bacteria.

How exactly does the little bug get away with that? The chemicals it secretes are toxic to the cells in the lining of our stomachs. It lets these chemicals off into our stomachs, leaving a trail of damage. Generally speaking, that’s how too much H. pylori can literally create a sore in your stomach lining (an ulcer).

Symptoms of H. Pylori

Having too much H. pylori in your gut may not manifest as an ulcer, though. Common symptoms of H. pylori overgrowth include:

  • Heartburn
  • Reflux / GERD
  • Excessive burping
  • Gas and bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Poor memory
  • Slow cognition or “brain fog”
  • Other ulcer symptoms

H. pylori is no fun.

H. pylori and the Brain: New Research 

Currently, scientists are investigating the relationship between H. pylori and the brain. So far, preliminary research seems to indicate that all-cause dementia and H. pylori infection are correlated, though the finding is contested. The meta-analysis study linked in the previous sentence looked at ~96,000 participants in total and found that there is a positive association between H. pylori and all-cause dementia, but not with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Another interesting study found that this bacterial infection is associated with neurodegeneration in cognitively normal men. Specifically, the men with an overgrowth of the bacteria had more thinning of cortical brain tissue than the non-infected men. 

Aside from dementia and something as intimidating as the thinning of brain tissue, H. pylori infection seems to exacerbate the gut-brain axis in other ways as well. A study from the World Journal of Gastroenterology indicated that the bug targets the gut-brain axis in ways that affect:

  • Neuroendocrine immune responses
  • Eating patterns
  • Appetite
  • Weight
  • Cognitive function
  • Mental health disorders
  • Visceral sensitivity
  • Other behaviors

Odd, right?

The Takeaway: Too Much H. Pylori Harms Your Brain and Gut

H. pylori’s effects aren’t fully understood yet. Scientists emphasize that more research needs to be conducted on the relationship between H. pylori and the gut-brain axis before we can fully understand it. We’ll be keeping our ears out for all of the new details.

Though more research is needed to learn exactly how H. pylori causes so many odd things to happen to the gut-brain axis, we do know its effects are harmful – at least when there is too much of it living in the gut.

For that reason, most clinicians recommend that you minimize the amount of H. pylori living in your gut if possible – especially if you experience persistent gastrointestinal or cognitive symptoms of any kind.

Check out our next blog to learn how to test for and manage an H. pylori infection. See you next time!