could trigger an ulcer or even increase the risk of gastric cancer, new lab
Why? Salt apparently riles up the poorly understood bacteria known as
Helicobacter pylori. The H. pylori bug causes the vast majority
of stomach and duodenal ulcers -- and greatly increases a person's risk of
gastric cancer and a form of lymphoma called MALT.
D. Scott Merrell, PhD, Hanan Gancz, PhD, and colleagues at the Uniformed
University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., note that people who eat a
lot of salty food seem to get more severe stomach diseases than other
When they exposed H. pylori cultures to salt, the bugs got stressed
"Stressed bacteria react more violently to their environment," Gancz
tells WebMD. "What they do then is to make their environment more
hospitable to them -- and worse for us."
The salt-exposed H. pylori pumped up the action of virulence genes.
The more active these genes are, researchers suspect, the more dangerous the
"The obvious implication is that decreasing the amount of salt in our
diet would reduce our chances, if we are infected with H. pylori, of
developing severe gastric disease," Merrell tells WebMD. "Our next step
is to find which H. pylori genes are needed to survive in the
environment. If we can find them, they might be good targets for a therapeutic
Merrell and Gancz reported the findings at this month's annual meeting of
the American Society for Microbiology in Toronto.
Gastroenterologist Lawrence Saubermann, MD, of the University of Rochester,
N.Y., notes that H. pylori is a common infection. For reasons still not
understood, most people infected with the bug never develop ulcers or H.
"Nobody can predict whether the organism will cause disease,"
Saubermann tells WebMD. "There are those who have H. pylori all
their lives and have no trouble. What causes some people to develop
complications from it is not clear."
Doctors don't usually test patients for H. pylori infection unless a
person shows signs of having an ulcer. But if the infection is detected,
patients usually receive treatment. Treatment means using at least two strong
antibiotics and a double-strength antacid pill.
That's a little bit scary, as doctors expect that with more and more people
getting treated, antibiotic-resistant H. pylori strains will appear.
This is why Saubermann hopes that Merrell, Gancz, and other researchers
succeed in finding out why -- and when -- H. pylori starts causing
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By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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