H pylori infection has been implicated in many “inflammatory” diseases, including those of the skin. In other articles on this website I have highlighted associations between H pylori and psoriasis, chronic ITP, dermatitis and several other skin disorders.
Recent research – albeit limited in quantity – has suggested a possible role for H pylori in many of these disorders, including Raynaud’s phenomenon.
In Raynaud’s phenomenon, the hands and feet can become discoloured due to problems with blood circulation. The blood vessels become constricted, which shuts down blood flow to the extremities, thereby causing the discolouration.
Periods of stress and cold weather are often triggers for ‘attacks’ of Raynaud’s phenomenon and it is believed that these attacks are the result of increase stimulation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The sympathetic branch of the ANS is the branch that is activated to help the body deal with stress. I could present a weekend seminar on ‘stress’, so I’ll keep discussion here short.
Whilst most people think of “stress” as the kids, the mortgage, the traffic jam, being late for the meeting’ and all the other day to day stressors that we’re inevitably confronted with from time-to-time, it really is much more than that.
For the purpose of this article, it is very important that “stress” can be caused by inflammation. In fact, the body’s primary stress response, where the sympathetic nervous system becomes hyperactive, may be caused by inflammation alone.
In other words, you could be a zen Buddhist monk and have no stress in your life, but if you have a chronic infection such as H pylori, your body’s stress response will be switched on to deal with the inflammation caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria.
H pylori is known to cause gastritis and duodenitis. The “itis” at the end of these words simply means “inflamed”. Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach and duodenitis is inflammation of the duodenum (first part of the small intestine).
Researchers have also proposed that the increased levels of inflammatory cytokines and acute phase reactants such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and fibrinogen that can result from H pylori infection may also play a role in the development Raynaud’s.
Here is how H pylori could cause Raynaud’s Phenomenon:
H pylori sites in the stomach and intestine causing inflammation; the inflammation causes activation of the body’s stress response; the sympathetic nervous system is also activated an its “on” switch gets stuck, meaning that it is switched on too much. The activation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to Raynaud’s.
Is there any research to support this?
Well, in a study of patients with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon, H pylori eradication was associated with complete remission of Raynaud’s phenomenon in 17% of treated patients and reduced symptoms in a further 72% of patients. In other words, 99% of the Raynaud’s patients experienced improvements when H pylori was eradicated.
Interestingly, in those subjects where H pylori eradication failed, symptoms did not improve at all, a finding that added further strength to the notion that H pylori plays a role in the condition.
Several studies have been conducted to see whether H pylori infection is more common in people who have Raynaud’s phenomenon than in people without the condition but the results have been inconclusive.
Interestingly, it has been shown that patients suffering with conditions similar to Raynaud’s, such as Progressive Systemic Sclerosis (PSS), are often infected with a specific strain of H pylori that is known to be particularly virulent.
This strain, which is known as ‘CagA’, is associated with several diseases outside the digestive system, including insulin resistance and heart disease.
It is quite possible that Raynaud’s is the result of infection with a particular strain of H pylori and not all H pylori sub-types.
Other Possible Causes of Raynaud’s Phenomenon:
If you have read any of the other articles on skin disease on this website, you may be bored of reading this next short section, but it’s essential information!
If Raynaud’s, like many of the other inflammatory and autoimmune conditions that affect people, are the result of a chronic stress or inflammatory response, then anything that causes inflammation may trigger progression of the condition.
H pylori is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digestive infections. In our practice we see more than twenty different digestive invaders in our clients every month.
These include bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, Campylobacter, E coli, Salmonella, Klebsiella, Yersinia and others. Many of these bacteria have already been linked to conditions outside the gut, including arthritis and thyroid disease.
We also see lots of parasites, including protozoans and worms. It is quite possible that stress, immune responses and inflammation from the likes of Giardia, Blastocystis, hookworm and Strongyloides may lead to inflammatory overspill elsewhere in the body.
Then we have foods that cause inflammation such as gluten, cow’s milk, processed foods containing lots of man-made additives and genetically modified crops. All of these have the potential to cause inflammation.
Finally, there are around 80,000 man-made chemicals in our environment these days, 200 of which can be found in the average umbilical cord when a baby is born. The toxic status of human beings is now completely out of control and it underpins many inflammatory illnesses.
As you can see, determining a single cause of any inflammatory condition, whether it’s Raynaud’s phenomenon, rosacea, urticarial, arthritis, lupus or colitis requires diligence and an acceptance that there may be multiple causes.