The presence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium, has been linked to higher levels of HbA1c, a diabetes biomarker which is used for measuring blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. For people with higher BMIs (body mass indexes), the association was even higher. Researchers from the NYU School of Medicine, part of NYU Langone Medical Center reported their findings in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The authors explain that while past studies looked at what effects H. pylori presence might have on diabetes, theirs is the only one so far that examines the bacterium’s impact on HbA1c.

“The prevalence of obesity and diabetes is growing at a rapid rate, so the more we know about what factors impact these conditions, the better chance we have for doing something about it.”

This study, which not only revealed the impact of H. pylori on the diabetes biomarker, but also how overweight and obese patients are affected even more, will probably change the way future diabetes treatments are decided upon.

Approximately 3.8 million people die annually worldwide from diabetes type II.

Martin J Blaser, MD, along with Dr. Chen gathered data from NHANES III and NHANES 1999-200 to determine whether H. pylori might be linked to HbA1c levels. (NHANES are National Health and Nutrition Surveys).

Dr. Blaser, the Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine and professor of microbiology, who has studies bacteria for over two decades, said:

“Obesity is an established risk factor for diabetes and it is known that high BMI is associated with elevated HbA1c. Separately, the presence of H. pylori is also associated with elevated HbA1c. We hypothesized that having both high BMI and the presence of H. pylori would have a synergistic effect, increasing HbA1c even more than the sum of the individual effect of either risk factor alone. We now know that this is true.”

H. pylori exists in the stomach lining and can remain there for several decades. Most people acquire the bacterium before their tenth birthday. Its main form of transmission is within families.

Dr. Blaser, in previous studies, had proven that there is a link between the presence of H. pylori in the gut and stomach cancer – a gene called cagA was found to impact on its virulence.

The authors think H. pylori affects the levels of two blood-glucose regulating hormones. They add that perhaps some older diabetes patients may benefit from a course of antibiotics to eradicate the bacterium.

They added that further studies are required to find out what H. pylori’s health effects in varying age groups might be, and how this could relate to obesity status – studies will also have to determine what the benefits of eradicating the bacterium are.

Dr. Chen said:

“If future studies confirm our finding, it may be beneficial for individuals at risk for diabetes to be tested for the presence of H. pylori and, depending on the individual’s risk factor profile.”

Dani Cohen, PhD, Tel Aviv University, Israel, explained that this study also differs from previous ones because it included a large sample of people, while the past ones were small. This one also analyzed two independent samples of the general population.

Dr. Cohen added, like the other researchers did, that obese patients infected with H. pylori might benefit from antibiotic therapy to prevent or control diabetes type II.

The findings in this study need to be confirmed, and if they are, this could have important public health and clinical implications, Dr. Cohen wrote.

Written by Christian Nordqvist