Probiotics, the microorganisms that live in our guts and are beneficial to our health, may just be the key to preventing or even treating food allergies. Several studies have been conducted to investigate this idea, and the results are promising. Although there have been some limitations and conflicting results, the overwhelming evidence is that probiotics have a role to play in helping our bodies fight off allergic reactions.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microbes that live in the intestines and play a role in our digestion and how we absorb nutrients from food. We benefit from these little organisms, and they can be consumed in food to get even more benefits. Probiotic bacteria are found in yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut. You can also buy them in supplement form. There is a whole ecosystem living in your gut, made up of many different types of microbes.
What the Research Says About Probiotics and Food Allergies
It has long been known that probiotics are beneficial and that consuming foods with them, to add to the natural ecosystem, improves health even more, especially digestion. That probiotics could reduce symptoms of allergies, or prevent them, is a newer but exciting discovery of research:
- Probiotics reduced allergic reactions and prevented allergies in mice. In one study, researchers gave probiotic supplements to mice that had been bred to be sensitive to shellfish allergens. They found that the mice were less likely to have anaphylaxis in reaction to the allergens after being given the probiotic bacteria. The mice also showed lower levels of histamines, molecules involved in an allergic response to an allergen.
- Probiotics improve food allergy symptoms. In one study using human participants, probiotics were found to reduce the number and intensity of symptoms caused by food allergies. The researchers pointed out that there may be different effects from different strains of probiotic bacteria. More studies are needed to determine which have the most positive effect.
- Children with allergies have a different composition of gut microbes. Research has also found that when the ecosystem of gut bacteria is compared between children with food allergies and those without, they are found to be different. Children who do not have food allergies have higher levels of certain bacteria, which may be one factor that protects them from developing food allergies. Generally, children with allergies have fewer overall gut bacteria than those who do not.
- Probiotic Clostridia may prevent peanut allergies. A study using mice found that supplementation with Clostridia, a specific type of bacterium, can prevent the development of peanut allergies. If you have a food allergy, say to peanuts, and you eat a peanut, your digestive tract breaks it down. The allergen compounds in the peanut then enter your bloodstream by penetrating the intestines. It is thought that in this study the Clostridia stimulated the immune system in such a way that it prevented the peanut allergens from getting through the intestinal wall and entering the bloodstream. Another type of bacteria used in the same way did not have the same effect.
Should You Supplement Your Child’s Diet With Probiotics?
The evidence given here is very promising. Several studies have found that probiotics can treat or prevent allergies. However, there have also been conflicting studies that found probiotics had no positive effect and even some that showed a negative effect. So far, Clostridia seem to be the most promising type of probiotic in treating food allergies, but should you give it to your child?
Probiotics are generally safe as a supplement, and foods that contain them (like yogurt) are healthful, but you should never attempt to treat a condition or prevent it with supplements of any kind without talking to your doctor. There are some probiotics that could be harmful when used as a supplement, especially for infants or young children. Talk to your pediatrician or allergist about probiotics for your child. If given under this professional’s direction, it could help and it probably won’t hurt.