It's National Allergy Awareness week from 23rd - 29th April 2018. 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 gut health with allergy management.


woman with hayfever
The misery of hay fever is obvious, but for many, allergies are an invisible danger

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 urgent 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 for other suffers, allergies are an invisible and sometimes life-threatening consideration which can dominate their daily lives.

This year, Allergy UK are highlighting the difficulty of travelling when you have severe allergies, and during this awareness week, the charity will be offering travel tips and advice on the issues that face those with allergies when travelling to new areas, flying, and eating out.

So could taking live cultures 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 cells are located in our intestinal tract, and that our resident gut microbiome not only interacts with the immune system but can help to modulate its responses- incredible!1

In theory, most beneficial bacteria could have some positive effect on immune function merely by helping to improve gut health, 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 bacterial strains and their individual potential. If you want to try using live cultures for your allergies, then we'd suggest using supplements containing strains of bacteria which have been researched to assess their potential for the relief of allergy symptoms.

Which strains have been researched in those with allergies?

If you take a look at our latest impartial educational resource, the Probiotics Database, which contains details of the world's best strains of live cultures, you can choose to search for the strains which have been used in studies looking at allergy symptoms. One such strain of bacteria is Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®- this super-strain is the most extensively-researched strain of L. acidophilus in the world! Click on this link to this strain's entry in the Database, where among others you will see details of a study using Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® in sufferers of allergic rhinitis caused by birch pollen2.
We always try to publish the latest developments in related research - check out our blogs relating to Live Cultures and Allergies. Here, along with other fascinating articles, you will find information about studies which assessed the effectiveness of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC against peanut allergy3 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG® against eczema and other atopic conditions4.


There are too many allergens 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. If you want to try using live cultures for your allergies, but travel a lot and think you might find it difficult to take your favourite products with you, then choose those supplements which do not need to be refrigerated.

Histamine – a double-edged sword

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 ('leaky gut') and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). So as hould 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 permeability5.

For more information check out our information page ‘Which live cultures for histamine intolerance?’

Some food allergies can be life-threatening

Can live cultures help with food allergies and intolerances?

Many people are confused by the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy. The primary difference is that food intolerances can be very unpleasant, but food allergies can be life-threatening. A food allergy generally shows up as an immediate swelling of the face and airways and is an urgent condition requiring medical attention, brought on by only a small amount of the trigger. However, an intolerance is seen as a more gradual response, generally manifesting as uncomfortable digestive symptoms, and is usually only brought on when a significant amount of the trigger is consumed. Due to the fact that our gut microbiota may help to keep the gut healthy and break down and digest certain foods, those with food intolerances sometimes find that taking live cultures can help improve digestion and gut integrity such that tolerance to offending foods may be improved.
We have an FAQ which explains more about the difference between a food intolerance and an allergy: General Allergy Information. You may also like to read this blog post about live cultures and lactose intolerance

Why do allergies develop?

The reason why we develop allergies is still poorly understood, but it is a subject of great concern to the medical profession as these inappropriate physical responses are a growing concern worldwide6.

The World Allergy Organization (WAO) warns that "the prevalence of allergic diseases worldwide is rising dramatically in both developed and developing countries."

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.

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. Evidence7 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 bacteria from their mother as they pass down the birth canal, 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.


newborn baby
Eczema can make childhood a misery for some children

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 live cultures may help to prevent so-called atopic symptoms such as eczema. A Dutch study8 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 AD (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.”

If you suffer from allergies and are interested in supporting your gut health, then it could be wise to choose a live cultures supplement which contains strains of bacteria used in clinical trials on allergy sufferers and shown to offer a benefit.

For more reading on this fascinating subject, look at these other related pages on our website:

Probiotics and Eczema
Are OptiBac Supplements Dairy- free?

Please note: This blog post was last updated in April 2018.

References:
1. Montalban-Arques A et al (2015) Selective Manipulation of the Gut Microbiota Improves Immune Status in Vertebrates, Frontiers in Immunology. Oct 9;6:512. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2015.00512. eCollection 2015.
2.Ouewhand, A.C. et al., (2009). ‘Specific probiotics alleviate allergic rhinitis during the birch pollen season’. World Journal of Gastronenterology. 15(26): 3261-3268.
3.Mimi L.K. Tang, Anne-Louise Ponsonby, Francesca Orsini, Dean Tey, Marnie Robinson, Ee Lyn Su, Paul Licciardi, Wesley Burks, Susan Donath. Administration of a probiotic with peanut oral immunotherapy: A randomized trial. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, .2014.11.034
4.Lundelin K. et al., (2017), ‘Long-term safety and efficacy of perinatal probiotic intervention: Evidence from a follow-up study of four randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials’. Pediatr. Allergy Immunol., 28(2):170-5
5. Dev, S., Mizuguchi, H., Das, A. K., Matsushita, C., Maeyama, K., Umehara, H., ... & Fukui, H. (2008). Suppression of histamine signaling by probiotic Lac-B: a possible mechanism of its anti-allergic effect. Journal of pharmacological sciences, 107(2), 159-166
6. Pawankar R, Canonica GW, ST Holgate ST, Lockey RF, Blaiss M. The WAO White Book on Allergy (Update. 2013)
7.Henry Ford Health System. "Babies born by C-section at risk of developing allergies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130225091904.htm>.
8. Penders et al (2013) Establishment of the intestinal microbiota and its role for atopic dermatitis in early childhood. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Sep;132(3):601-607.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.05.043. Epub 2013 Jul 27.

Comments

  • Great article - thank you! I know two people at least who'll benefit from this. Probiotics are so vital to good health :)

  • This is a really fascinating and insightful blog post about the possibility of probiotics helping to prevent allergies. Considering that 12% of the world’s population is afflicted by hay fever, 10% is afflicted by asthma, 9% with contact allergies and 5% with food allergies, anything that can assist in the prevention or alleviation of them is hugely beneficial in my book.
    You refer to atopic family history in your post and yes unfortunately genetics does play a huge role in the pre-disposition to certain allergens. For example, if one parent is allergic, their child has a 50% chance of having allergies. However, if both parents are allergic, that risk increases to 75%.


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