Could probiotics help to prevent allergies?
It's National Allergy Awareness week from 20th - 26th April 2015. As the hay-fever season launches, bringing misery to sufferers across the Western Hemisphere, Allergy UK will be attempting to raise awareness of the growing allergy epidemic and we support their campaign wholeheartedly, particularly in view of mounting evidence linking probiotics and optimum gut health with allergy management.
Allergy UK are releasing new statistics indicating that, despite the increasing numbers of people affected each year, the public are largely ignorant of the negative and life-altering effects that allergies can have on the lives of sufferers, so there is an increasing need to address this often dangerous health issue. Some allergies, such as hay fever, are obvious to all, as the misery of sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes are very apparent. But the misery doesn’t stop there - allergies seem to be one of the biggest health issues of the modern world, and for some, an invisible but sometimes dangerous consideration that can dominate their daily lives.
So could probiotics help with allergies?
It isn’t immediately obvious to most people how supplementing with live cultures could help allergy sufferers, until it is explained that 70% of our immune system resides in our intestinal tract, and that probiotic bacteria not only interact with the immune system but can help to modulate its responses to be more appropriate. It seems that the bacteria actually communicate with the lymph nodes and tell them to attack only the invading nasties – incredible!
So in theory most beneficial bacteria could have some positive effect on immune function, but the research into strain specificity is a fast-growing area of study, and new information is being discovered all the time about the different probiotic strains and how they work.
Which probiotic strains are best at reducing allergenic responses?
Here, amongst other fascinating articles, you will find information relating to studies that assessed the effectiveness of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC against peanut allergy and Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG against eczema and other atopic conditions such as allergic rhinitis.
There are too many allergies and food intolerances to mention as it seems as though the individual can react to almost any type of food or substance; some allergens though – pollen, tree spores, and foods such as peanuts, gluten/wheat, soya and dairy – appear to be high on the list of potential triggers. Our whole range is gluten-free, but for more information on which of our products are suitable for those with other common allergies, we have an FAQ page devoted to all things allergenic: General Allergy Information.
Histamine – a double-edged sword
One little known form of food intolerance where choosing the right strain of probiotics appears to be key is histamine intolerance. We all know histamine as the inflammatory substance produced by the body in a typical hay fever reaction, for which anti-histamine drugs are the most popular conventional treatment. But not so many people are aware that histamine is also present in many foods and can create a wide range of allergenic symptoms if the individual lacks the specific enzyme in the body, Diamine Oxidase (DAO), to effectively break this substance down. Low levels of DAO leave high serum levels circulating in the blood causing a variety of inflammatory symptoms.
Causes of Histamine Intolerance are thought to be Intestinal Permeability and SIBO (bacteria imbalance/overgrowth). So probiotics should be helpful in alleviating histamine intolerance, but in this case, strains are super-specific - some strains help to alleviate histamine intolerance by down regulating IgE and histamine receptors, and up-regulating anti-inflammatory agents in the intestinal wall, helping to repair damage and reduce permeability,
Some strains of probiotics actually produce histamine! In particular those strains that are commonly found in fermented foods, so these are one of the top foods to avoid if you have this type of allergy:
Species that fall into this category include Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, whereas those thought to help histamine intolerance are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum, and possibly Lactobacillus reuteri*
Check out our information page ‘Probiotics and Histamine Intolerance’ for more details.
Can probiotics help with other food allergies and intolerances too?
Why do allergies develop?
The reason why we develop allergies is still poorly understood. Allergies can take many different forms, encompassing reactions ranging from mild food intolerances to dangerous anaphylactic reactions.There is an important distinction to be made between allergies and food intolerances; however, food intolerances are generally the result of poor digestion or ‘leaky gut,’ where incompletely digested molecules of food pass through into the bloodstream triggering an immune response from an antibody, or immunoglobulin. A true allergy involves a specific immunoglobulin, IgE, which is implicated in anaphylaxis.
Tolerance is the key word with allergies. Essentially, whether manifesting as a food intolerance or an immune response, the allergen will only cause a reaction if the digestive or immune system is in some way compromised. Then the immune responses start to become inappropriate, and hey bingo – you have an allergy in the making.
Allergies can also present without warning at any time, often affecting sufferers late in life and causing reactions to foods or environmental stimuli that have previously been well-tolerated.In particular, more and more children are presenting with allergenic symptoms, with the latest statistics indicating that more than 50% of children in the United Kingdom now suffer from some form of allergy. Evidence suggests that that babies born via Caesarean section have an increased risk of developing allergies in later life. A natural vaginal birth exposes babies to the probiotic bacteria of the birth canal, which plays an important role in the development of the immune system and gut microbiota.
Certain individuals seem to be more pre-disposed towards allergy development: the medical profession terms these people ‘atopic.’ Atopic is derived from the Greek and means something ‘out of place’ or ‘unusual’ – this predisposition to be ‘different’ appears to be genetic and can run in families.
Atopic family history – can anything be done?
There are conventional medications that act to reduce allergenic symptoms, such as anti-histamines and steroids, but avoidance of the known allergen is still one of the most effective methods of controlling reactions, whether these are foods or environmental allergens. This can be difficult when the allergen is widespread, as with pollens or tree spores that are spread throughout the environment in certain seasons and countries.
Considering that most of our beneficial gut flora is initially passed on to us from our mothers via the birth canal during natural childbirth, this predisposition could be traced back to a family history of unbalanced gut flora. Research is beginning to suggest that improving gut health via the use of probiotics may help to prevent so-called atopic symptoms such as eczema. A Dutch study from 2013 suggested that in atopic dermatitis running in families could be alleviated by improving the populations of beneficial microbiota:
“The results of this study are supportive for a role of the microbiota in the development of A (Atopic dermatitis). Moreover, the beneficial” influence of older siblings on the microbiota composition suggests that this microbiota may be one of the biological mechanisms underlying the sibling effect.”
Anecdotal evidence from our customers appears to support this evidence – see these reviews for our most hypo-allergenic product ‘For every day EXTRA Strength’:
Jenny Lawrence - London — 8th Aug 2012
I used this product originally after a couple of courses of antibiotics. What I didn't expect to happen was for my eczema to clear up almost over night. I have had it severely for eight years. I was so convinced it was the probiotics I called my doctor who dismissed the idea. I however put my 8 year old daughter on them and her eczema cleared up to . she had been under hospital treatment for her condition. If you have eczema then please try these I think they are amazing and I tell everyone I can.
Vivian - Southampton — 24th Oct 2014
My son used to have severe eczema where I had to wet wrap him daily. He also has gut allergies and used to have abdominal pains at night all the time. However, since being on optibac both these symptoms have improved, he still gets occasional flares of eczema however, it is so much better and I'm getting sleep again. Thank you optibac!!
For more reading on this fascinating subject, look at these other related pages on our website: