No one would believe that bacteria caused stomach ulcers – until Barry Marshall swallowed some
BACK in 1984, a young Australian doctor called Barry Marshall swallowed a nasty-tasting solution of bacteria. This was no accident. He did it to convince his peers that his suspicions about a highly prevalent disease were not as far-fetched as they thought.
In 1981, Marshall had met pathologist Robin Warren, who had found curved bacteria in inflamed stomach tissue. In further studies, they found that this bacterium, later named Helicobacter pylori, was present in most people who had inflammation or ulcers of the stomach or gut. Like two long-forgotten German researchers in 1875, they concluded that these bacteria were to blame.
“I was met with constant criticism that my conclusions were premature,”Marshall later wrote. “My results were disputed and disbelieved, not on the basis of science but because they simply could not be true.”
It is often claimed that doctors were wedded to the idea that ulcers were caused by excess stomach acid, or that they didn’t believe that bacteria could grow in the stomach. In fact, the main reason for the scepticism, says Richard Harvey of the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, UK, was that four-fifths of ulcers were not in the stomach but further down the digestive tract.
Yet we now know that Marshall was right. After downing his bacterial concoction, he soon became far more ill than he had expected, vomiting and developing stomach inflammation. Later studies confirmed the theory. His discovery made it possible for millions of people to be cured of their ulcers with antibiotics, instead of having to take acid-reducing drugs every day.
It turns out that H. pylori causes ulcers by boosting acid production in the stomach. The big mystery is why, when half the world’s population carries the bug, only a small proportion develop symptoms. Harvey’s team has been studying the benefits of eliminating H. pylori, which has been shown to cause stomach cancer as well as ulcers. He has no doubts about his conclusions: “The only good Helicobacter is a dead one.”
Via New Scientist http://tinyurl.com/38lclgd