Stomach Bacterium May Thwart Asthma
Helicobacter Pylori, Which Can Cause Ulcers, May Make Asthma Less Likely
April 23, 2007 -- A stomach bacterium that causes ulcers and is linked to
stomach cancer may make asthma less likely.
That news appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The bacterium is called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). It is
associated with ulcers and increased risk of stomach cancer.
H. pylori is found worldwide, but it's more common in developing countries,
note Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, and Martin Blaser, MD.
Chen and Blaser work at the New York University Cancer Institute; Blaser
also works with the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare
They studied data on 7,663 U.S. adults who took part in a national health
study conducted from 1988-1994.
Participants were asked if they had ever had asthma. They also took a blood
test to see if they had ever been infected with H. pylori. A subgroup of nearly
2,400 participants also took skin tests to check their skin's sensitivity to
pollen and molds.
H. Pylori and Asthma
Overall H. pylori infection didn't affect participants' odds of currently
having asthma. But it apparently reduced their risk of having had asthma in the
past, especially in childhood.
H. pylori infection was also linked to never having had hay fever (allergic
rhinitis), allergy symptoms, or skin sensitivity to pollen or molds.
"The present observations are consistent with the 'hygiene hypothesis'
that microbial infections during early childhood may prevent or diminish [skin]
sensitization and asthma," write the researchers.
H. pylori may have "costs and benefits," Blaser says in a New York
University news release. "The relative costs and benefits clearly differ
among individuals," he adds.
The study doesn't show how H. pylori makes asthma less likely.
"One hypothesis is if you have H. pylori in your stomach, you have an
inflammatory process that is ongoing for decades, and this is skewing the
immune system in a particular direction," Blaser says.