Allergies are nothing to sneeze at. Their epidemic growth worldwide has public health officials scrambling for answers — not to mention tissues.
Simply put, allergies are immune system malfunctions: harmless allergens including food, pollen, mold or dust are seen by the body as threats. Symptoms are triggered. Some are merely annoying as in the itch that arises after reading a magazine laced with perfume while others can be life-threatening as when breathing stops after eating a single peanut.
Probiotics are deeply involved in immunity. Could probiotics help with allergies?
Hania Szajewska from the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland. reviewed the evidence in a 2012 paper:
- Probiotics increase exposure to microbes, giving the body a chance to be “inoculated” against tougher intruders. Sterile wipes and gels and keeping kids out of dirt may contribute to a wimpy immune system, one that is bullied by simple “allergens”.
- New babies display different microbes. Those with allergies have more clostridia and tend to have fewer bifidobacteria than non-atopic subjects.
- Probiotics spur the immune system. A number of recent meta-analyses have suggested that probiotics are effective in preventing eczema, particularly if given both before and after birth.
But, there is one big problem: much of the data use different probiotic strains. And not all probiotics are created equal.
Australian researchers wrote in the December 2009 issue of Clinical and Experimental Allergy :
“while there is little doubt that microbiota modulate immune development and can prevent the allergic phenotype, the optimal way of achieving this is far from clear… (there is) growing speculation that supplementation with a single probiotic strain may be oversimplistic and that approaches that have a more global effect on colonization may be warranted.”
Take a look at two other recent studies:
- Pooled data from six trials showed reduced atopic eczema in young children aged 2–7 years when their mothers had probiotics during pregnancy. But only for lactobacilli and not for a mixture of bacterial strains.
- Adding prebiotics? A recent study done with infants from five European countries showed that putting oligosaccharides in formula reduced the risk of atopic dermatitis from 9.7 to 5.7%.
Of course, breast milk requires no supplementation and is thought to reduce allergies.
What does this mean for the sniffling, sneezing allergy-sufferer—way past the comfort of mother’s milk? Subjects in controlled studies who consumed yogurt daily saw significant relief from symptoms. How do they do this?
- Probotics may interfere with the allergic response by increasing regulatory T cells, which fight inflammation.
- Probiotics may also affect B cells which make secretory immunoglobulins which calms the overreactive immune response, thus causing fewer allergic reactions.
Take away here? Probiotics may be effective against allergies but the details are still being worked out. Stay tuned. In the meantime, eat a wide variety of pre and probiotic -rich foods. If you supplement, take a broad spectrum.
And finally, don’t forget to play in the dirt.