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Does H. Pylori Cause Stomach Ulcers?

Posted Sep 10 2009 10:02pm

In a previous post I said that the Nobel Prize to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren — for supposedly showing that H. pylori causes stomach ulcers — was a mistake. Because half the world has the bug in their stomach, and only a tiny fraction of them get ulcers, the true cause of those ulcers lies elsewhere, probably with an impaired immune system. Marshall famously drank a flask full of H. pylori and didn’t get an ulcer, yet took this to support his theory. A classic example of self-deception.

Recently Lam Shiu-kum, a former dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, was convicted of a giant fraud. He siphoning millions of dollars of medical fees into his own pocket:

Dr Lam, 66, brought a 39 year association with the university, his alma mater, to an abrupt end in March 2007 when the investigation into billing irregularities began. He is a distinguished gastroenterologist who conducted pioneering research into chemoprevention of stomach cancer through the eradication of Helicobacter pylori. His team also conducted the first double blind, controlled study into curing peptic ulcers by H pylori eradication.

I suppose this supports my case. As far as I know, almost all doctors and med school professors believe H. pylori causes stomach ulcers; I have never heard dissent about this.

More. What goes unsaid, and maybe unnoticed, in the debate about health care, is that it is hard to have decent health care (that is, decent health) when those in charge don’t know what they’re doing. The stomach-ulcer-etiology problem is a small example of a big thing. In case I’m not being blunt enough, let me be even more blunt: This example illustrates that the average doctor, the average med school professor, and at least two Nobel-Prize-winning med school professors (not to mention those who award Nobel Prizes) have a lot of room for improvement in their interpretation of simple facts. My previous example of the infectious-disease expert (a med school professor) who overlooked the immune system is another example of vast room for improvement. It’s hard to get good health care from people whose understanding of health is terribly incomplete yet don’t realize this.

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