60-Second Science

Stomach Bug May Ward Off Asthma

A study finds that kids whose stomachs harbor ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori bacteria have a lower incidence of asthma, perhaps because the bacteria train the immune system to behave moderately. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

In 2005 two scientists won a Nobel Prize for discovering that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori causes most stomach ulcers. One of them even chugged a glassful of the bugs to prove the point. But before you wash out your mouth with antibiotics, consider this: a new study from New York University suggests that Helicobacter might also protect you—from asthma.

The scientists analyzed data from more than 7,000 participants in a national health and nutrition survey. They found that children between the ages of three and 13 are less than half as likely to have asthma if they carry H. pylori. They also had half the incidence of hay fever and other allergies. The results appear online in the July 15th issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

A hundred years ago, nearly everyone was infected with H. pylori. But the use of antibiotics has beaten back the bug. At the same time, asthma has been on the rise. It could be that encountering Helicobacter as a kid teaches the immune system how to react, and not overreact as in asthma to future allergens. Still, you might hold off on ordering that Helicobacter cocktail until more research is done.

—Karen Hopkin

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