Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is a bacterium that commonly infects people’s stomachs. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many people have it, but most won’t show any symptoms. However, it can cause damage to the stomach and small intestine and sometimes even cause peptic ulcers in the upper digestive tract. New research finds it could impact your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, too.
A study recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, investigated the impact of clinically apparent H. pylori infection on the risk of Alzheimer’s. Using data from more than 4 million people aged 50 or older, the team found that those who had experienced this sort of infection had a moderately increased risk of developing the disease. The team says this could mean there’s another modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s that we can tackle, which may help safeguard the cognitive health of our increasingly aging society.
Dr. Paul Brassard, senior author and professor at McGill University in Quebec, says, “We hope the findings from this investigation will provide insight on the potential role of H. pylori in dementia in order to inform the development of prevention strategies, such as individualized eradication programs, to reduce infections at the population level.”
The research involved more than 4.26 million people 50 or older from the United Kingdom’s Clinical Practice Research Datalink. They were followed from 1988 through 2019. During that time, 40,455 developed Alzheimer’s. The team found that having a clinically apparent H. pylori infection was linked with an 11% higher risk of Alzheimer’s, while the increased risk hit a peak of 24% 10 years after the infection began. This wasn’t found to differ significantly by age or sex.
The team writes that H. pylori can access the brain through the oral-nasal-olfactory axis or through infected circulating monocytes through the disrupted blood-brain-barrier, which could lead to neuroinflammation, neuronal damage, and neurodegeneration. The bacterium could also cause problems through the gut-brain axis.
If the findings are confirmed through further research, the knowledge could be harnessed to help address an expected boom in Alzheimer’s cases. The researchers’ analysis showed that eradicating H. pylori could lower overall dementia prevalence by 0.7%, which would mean about 200,000 fewer cases across the globe.
Dr. Brassard says, “Given the global ageing population, dementia numbers are expected to triple in the next 40 years. However, there remains a lack of effective treatment options for this disease.”
Other common bugs have been linked with the development of Alzheimer’s, as well. You can read more about that here.