Harvard Health Letter

H. pylori: Does it have a silver lining?

The bacterium is a leading cause of ulcers, but it might have health benefits, too.

The discovery of the ulcer-causing stomach bug Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) was a triumph of scientific inquiry. But it also speaks to the uncertainties and complications of scientific inquiry.

Australian researchers J. Robin Warren and Barry J. Marshall proved that the curvy bacterium caused inflammation in the stomach (gastritis) and ulcers in the stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). Marshall famously drank a glass of the bug to help make the case. When the pair announced their findings, they were, in effect, laughed off the lectern. Everyone then believed that stress was the main cause of ulcers, and that bacteria couldn't survive the stomach's acid environment. But the researchers persevered; the tide turned; and the medical community recognized their findings.

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