Background: Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) is one of the most common pathogens to establish and cause infection in human beings, affecting about 50% of the world's population. Prevalence may be as high as 83% in Latin American countries and as low as 17% in North America. Approximately 20% of infected people will manifest disease; people at high risk include those who live in low- and middle-income countries with poor sanitary conditions, since the mechanism of transmission seems to be oral-oral or faecal-oral (mostly during infancy). There are several antibiotic regimens to treat the infection, but antibiotic resistance is growing around the world. New adjuvant drugs - such as probiotic, statins, curcumin, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) - are being tested to enhance eradication rates.N-acetylcysteine can destabilise the biofilm structure; it also has synergic action with antibiotics, and bactericidal effects. In addition, NAC has antioxidant properties, and has a primary mucolytic effect by reducing the thickness of the gastric mucus layer, both of which may exert beneficial adjuvant effects on H pylori eradication.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE (1966 to April 2018), Embase (1988 to April 2018), CINAHL (1982 to April 2018), LILACS (1982 to April 2018), grey literature databases and trials registries. We handsearched the reference lists of relevant studies. We screened 726 articles and assessed 18 for eligibility.
Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCT) of any antibiotic regimen plus NAC, in adults infected with H pylori. To be included, trials had to use a control consisting of the same antibiotic regimen with or without placebo. Outcomes of interest were eradication rates, and gastrointestinal, toxic, and allergic adverse events. Reporting of the primary outcomes listed here was not an inclusion criterion for the review.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently reviewed and extracted data and completed the 'Risk of bias' assessments. A third review author independently confirmed the 'Risk of bias' assessments. We used Review Manager 5 software for data analysis. We contacted study authors if there was missing information.
Main results: We included eight RCT (with a total of 559 participants) in this review. The studies recruited outpatients age between 17 and 76 years who were referred to endoscopy centres in several different countries. The certainty of evidence was reduced for most outcomes due to the poor methodological quality of included studies; issues mainly related to the generation of allocation sequence, allocation concealment, and blinding (this last domain related specifically to adverse outcomes).We are uncertain whether the addition of NAC to antibioticsimproves H pylori eradication rates, compared with the addition of placebo or no NAC (38.8% versus 49.1%, risk ratio (RR) 0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.51 to 1.08; participants = 559; studies = eight; very low-certainty evidence). A post-hoc sensitivity analysis, in which we removed studies that tested antibiotic regimens no longer recommended in clinical practice, showed that the addition of NACmay improve eradication rates compared to control (27.2% versus 37.6%, RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.94; participants = 397; published studies = five).We are uncertain whether NAC is associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal adverse events compared to control (23.9% versus 18.9%, RR 1.25, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.85; participants = 336; studies = five; very low-certaintyevidence), or allergic adverse events (2% versus 0%, RR 2.98, 95% CI 0.32 to 27.74; participants = 336; studies = five; very low-certainty evidence). There were no reports of toxic adverse events amongst included studies.
Authors' conclusions: We are uncertain whether the addition of NAC to antibioticsimproves H pylori eradication rates compared with the addition of placebo or no NAC. Due to the clinical, statistical and methodological heterogeneity found in included studies, and the uncertainty observed when analysing therapy subgroups, any possible beneficial effect of NAC should be regarded cautiously.We are uncertain whether NAC is associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal or allergic adverse events compared with placebo or no NAC. There were no reports of toxic adverse events amongst the included studies.Further large, well-designed, randomised clinical studies should be conducted, with good reporting standards and appropriate collection of efficacy and safety outcomes, especially for current recommended antibiotic regimens.