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How H. pylori damages sperm

Can H. pylori harm sperm?

H. pylori and sperm is taken from my e-book, How H. pylori Causes Fertility and Pregnancy Problems, which you can download here for free.

Many years ago, I attended a functional medicine training programme in which a doctor (the late Bill Timmins, N.D.) explained how he had isolated H. pylori from a semen sample.

To most scientists and medical professionals, this would seem preposterous. However Dr. Timmins was an esteemed clinician and in my opinion there is no reason to doubt his claim.

I have not been able to find any additional research showing that H. pylori hangs out with sperm cells, but this is probably because nobody has bothered looking!

I have, however, located a bunch of interesting research associating of H. pylori with poor sperm health.

In 2014, The World Journal of Gastroenterology produced a review paper on H. pylori’s role reproductive health.

Potential associations between H. pylori and declining sperm health were discussed, along with possible mechanisms.

The authors stated:

We found that the prevalence of H. pylori infection in men with fertility problems was higher than in controls; we also detected anti-H. pylori antibodies in seminal plasma of 58% of infected men and in no samples of 11 seronegative patients… Immunocytochemical studies highlighted that anti-H. pylori hyperimmune sera, as well as serum samples from infected men, reacted immunologically with the flagellum (particularly rich in tubulin) and the equatorial segment of human ejaculated spermatozoa. In addition, a partial linear homology was observed between human tubulin, the main constituent of sperm flagellum, and H. pylori proteins (flagellin, CagA and VacA), suggesting that mechanisms of antigenic mimicry may stimulate cross-reactive antibodies.”

Decoding the technical spiel

Allow me to explain what this means in plain English: H. pylori antibodies in our immune system may confuse sperm cell proteins for H. pylori.

Consequently, the antibodies attack sperm cell proteins, thinking they are H. pylori bacteria. Not good.

The authors continue with further possible mechanisms of action:

“Further investigations, carried out in a group of idiopathic (no known cause) infertile patients, showed that infected men, especially those with serum antibodies to CagA, showed reduced sperm motility and a greater number of necrotic and apoptotic sperm in their ejaculates. Concomitantly, increased systemic levels of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), a proinflammatory cytokine that may cause sperm damage, were observed in the group of idiopathic infertile males infected by H. pylori strains expressing CagA.”

What they’re saying is that infertile men had higher CagA H. pylori antibodies. They also had lazy, slow moving sperm, with dying (necrotic) and suicidal (apoptotic) sperm cells.

Here’s the next paragraph:

“The influence of H. pylori strains expressing CagA on semen quality was further explored in a very recent study in which we examined 87 infected males for the possible relationship between infection by CagA positive H. pylori strains and sperm parameters evaluated following World Health Organization guidelines. In the CagA positive subjects, sperm motility, sperm vitality, and the percentage of sperm with normal morphology were significantly reduced compared with those measured in the CagA negative infected subjects.”

Here, they’re basically saying that patients infected with the CagA H. pylori strain fared much worse than those infected with the non-CagA variety.

This again emphasizes my earlier point that the H. pylori strain really matters.

Having a bog standard H. pylori strain may not cause reproductive problems­­––it’s the more virulent strains that seem to be a nuisance.

The authors also present information relating to hormone levels in semen. In particular, they discuss ghrelin and obestatin, which are mainly produced by the stomach and are involved in energy balance and reproduction.

“Recently, both peptides were detected in human semen at increased concentrations respect to serum levels. Afterwards, we detected significantly augmented ghrelin levels in the semen of patients infected by H. pylori strains expressing CagA, and we considered this finding as a possible response to a negative effect of infection upon the semen quality. Also obestatin semen concentrations were increased in this kind of patients, but in non-significant manner.”

The conclusion in a different paper, published in 2013 by Moretti et al, sums up H. pylori’s apparent adverse effect on sperm health:

“We definitely demonstrated, in a quite large population of HP-infected males, a relationship between the presence of strains expressing CagA and decreased sperm quality, especially concerning motility and viability. We propose two possible explanations, not mutually exclusive, for the obtained results:

(1) the existence of an autoimmune phenomenon that involves molecular mimicry,

(2) an enhanced inflammatory response causing an in- creased cytokine production.”

Moretti et al. CagA-Positive Helicobacter pylori Infection and
Reduced Sperm Motility, Vitality, and Normal Morphology. Disease Markers. 
Volume 35 (2013), Issue 4, Pages 229–234

Moretti and his team also published a study in 2015, with the conclusion:

“CagA+ HP infection increases semen levels of inflammatory cytokines, which may reduce sperm motility and determine sperm damage and contribute to reduce the reproductive potential in men.”

Urology. 2015 Jul;86(1):41-6. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2015.02.068.

Finally, in 2014, another research team looked at infertile men with elevated H. pylori antibodies in their semen. Sperm motility improved when the men were successfully treated and the authors concluded:

“H. pylori treatment significantly improves sperm motility in infertile asthenozoospermic men with elevated seminal H. pylori IgA.”

El Garem et al. Seminal Helicobacter pylori treatment improves sperm motility in infertile asthenozoospermic men. Urology. 2014 Dec;84(6):1347-50. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2014.09.004.

Is H. pylori the only reason for poor sperm health or reduced sperm counts?

No, there are many reasons.

However the evidence clearly points to an association between H. pylori and sperm health, especially when the CagA H. pylori strain is involved.

Rather than spending thousands on IVF, it would be pertinent to check for H. pylori and other possible underlying reasons for reduced sperm health.

It’s much cheaper, and just may give the answers you’re looking for if you’re struggling with reproductive issues.

Key Points on H. pylori and sperm:

  • It would appear that H. pylori, especially the CagA strains, have the ability to adversely affect sperm health.
  • This could, of course, play a role in unexplained infertility.

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