Intestinal Metaplasia

Medically reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH on August 31, 2017Written by Diana K. Wells on August 31, 2017

Overview

Intestinal metaplasia is a condition in which the cells that create the lining of your stomach are changed or replaced. The replacement cells are similar to the cells that create the lining of your intestines. It’s considered a precancerous condition.

One theory is that this change may be caused by a type of bacteria called H. pylori bacteria. This type of bacteria may change parts of some foods into chemicals that cause the stomach cells to change.

What are the symptoms?

While some people may have acid reflux problems or symptoms relating to an H. pylori infection, intestinal metaplasia is primarily asymptomatic. This means that there aren’t any visible symptoms related to this condition. It’s discovered by screenings through endoscopy procedures and biopsies.

What are the causes and risk factors?

The exact causes of intestinal metaplasia are still being researched. However, there are some factors known to increase your risk. These risk factors may include:

  • smoking
  • H. pylori infection
  • genetics (having a close, first-degree relative with gastric cancer)
  • environmental factors

Multiple risk factors usually are present in intestinal metaplasia. The cells of your stomach lining may also change on their own for reasons scientists don’t yet understand.

How is it treated?

The first step in the treatment of intestinal metaplasia is using endoscopy to diagnose and biopsy the gastric lining. Endoscopy is a procedure where a long, thin tube is inserted into your body. There is a camera on the end that allows doctors to get a close look at, in this case, your gastric lining. There can also be a tool added to the end of the endoscope that will allow the doctor to take a small sample of a lesion or the gastric lining for a biopsy.

After confirming a diagnosis of intestinal metaplasia, the doctor can begin treatment. Currently, the most effective treatment is to remove the H. pylori infection completely. This is done in combination with the use of antioxidant agents. Studies have shown this to be an effective way of trying to reverse intestinal metaplasia. However, more studies are being done to discover additional methods of reversing it.

Diet for prevention and treatment of intestinal metaplasia

Some dietary practices are believed to help in the prevention and treatment of intestinal metaplasia. These include eating lots of plant-based foods including fresh fruits and vegetables because these are full of antioxidants. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenols.

Foods to eat

Some of the foods for prevention of intestinal metaplasia include:

  • whole-grain cereals
  • green tea
  • tomatoes
  • garlic
  • onions
  • leeks
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • spices
  • herbs
  • cocoa and dark chocolate
  • berries (the best fruits for antioxidants)
  • apples (peel included)
  • grapes
  • apricots
  • cherries
  • plums
  • peaches
  • bananas
  • mangoes
  • olives
  • artichoke, kale, and bell peppers (these have the highest antioxidant content of all vegetables)
  • sweet potatoes
  • broccoli
  • beets

Foods to avoid

In addition to adding good foods, there are other foods you should avoid or limit. The foods you should avoid are those that have a high salt content.

In the United States, three-fourths of our intake of salt comes from restaurants and packaged foods. This means that the first step in reducing your salt intake is reducing the number of meals you eat in restaurants and reducing the amount of packaged foods you use.

Foods to avoid because they have a high salt content:

  • ketchup
  • barbeque sauce
  • soy sauce
  • olives
  • pickles
  • sauerkraut
  • some cheeses
  • some salad dressings
  • salty chips
  • processed meats (hot dogs, ham, etc.)

In addition to your diet, one of the best ways to try and prevent intestinal metaplasia is to stop smoking. Not smoking will also help in the treatment of this condition.

Complications from intestinal metaplasia

Intestinal metaplasia is believed to be a precancerous lesion that commonly leads to gastric cancer. If you have intestinal metaplasia, then your risk of getting gastric cancer is increased six times.

Outlook

Intestinal metaplasia is a precancerous type of lesion. There are ways you can try to limit some of your risks. However, not all risks can be avoided. When you have intestinal metaplasia, the sooner you start treating it, the better your chances of keeping it under control and possibly even reversing it.

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