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The days are drawing out after a long winter and whilst many delight in this thought for good reason, hay fever sufferers may be filled with dread at the thought of itching, wheezing, hives, or streaming eyes ruining their “feel good” walk in nature. Allergy on the whole, or hypersensitivity of the immune system, is becoming all the more common. Up to 20% of patients with allergies struggle daily with fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction.1
Is there anything sufferers can do to support themselves?
Whilst allergy is a complex condition, with avoidance of the allergen being the most effective solution, this is simply not always possible in daily life. The good news for all allergy sufferers is that there is strong evidence to show that taking a daily probiotic supplement may be able to help prevent allergy and also safely help to manage symptoms.
In the UK, a staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, having grown by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone.2 The percentage of children diagnosed with allergic rhinitis and eczema have both trebled over the last 30 years.3 Food allergies are a cause of particular concern in young children, where the incidence of food allergy is estimated to be greater in toddlers (5-8%) than in adults (1-2%).4 In the 20 years leading to 2012, there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in the UK.5
Allergy UK defines an allergy as “the response of the body's immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens, foods, and house dust mite. Whilst in most people these substances (allergens) pose no problem, in allergic individuals their immune system identifies them as a “threat” and produces an inappropriate response.” This is distinct to a food intolerance, or sensitivity which may cause more delayed symptoms such as bloating or gas, yet does not involve an extreme immune reaction.
There are many ways in which probiotics support the immune system. Research is growing regarding the connection between gut integrity, bacterial balance and allergic tendencies.6 Probiotics teach the immune system appropriate ways to respond.7 They strengthen integrity of the gut wall8 and reduce inflammation,9 which overall results in calming a hyper reactive immune system, as typically seen in allergies.10
The strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG in particular, has been shown to regulate the body’s response to allergies and reduce inflammatory markers.11
Of particular interest to parents wanting to minimise the likelihood of their child developing an allergy, a large scale literature review in 2018 found that supplementing with probiotics during the last few weeks of pregnancy and in the first 3-6 months of breastfeeding reduced eczema in children by 22%. They also found evidence to suggest a daily omega-3 supplement from 20 weeks of pregnancy into the first 3-4 months of breast feeding decreased risk of allergies.12 Therefore, supplementing with both probiotics and omega-3 could be of particular benefit.
Specific blend of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium may help to prevent allergy in children, potentially reducing lifelong incidence of the condition. Mothers took these during the last trimester and infants from birth-6 months. This research showed that the babies who took the probiotic were 57% less likely to develop allergic eczema than those receiving the placebo. They were also 44% less likely to develop allergic reactions to common allergens including pollen, cow’s milk, egg, and house dust mite, and symptoms of atopic eczema were also reported as having improved.12
A healthy gut has been shown to help with both preventing and managing allergy. Whilst probiotics are not the sole solution, alongside a modified diet and lifestyle they hold well evidenced potential to make a significant difference in preventing allergy and minimising debilitating symptoms for allergy sufferers, improving quality of life.
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1 EAACI. Tackling the allergy crisis in Europe - Concerted policy action needed. 2016 March.
2 Foods Matter. 2010. Mintel’s Allergy and Allergy Remedies UK. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from Foods Matter: http://www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/miscellane...
3 Gupta R, S. A. Time trends in allergic disorders in the UK. Thorax, 2007, 62(1), 91-96.
4 Pawankar R, C. G. The WAO White Book on Allergy (Update 2013).
5 Turner PJ, G. M. Increase in anaphylaxis-related hospitalizations but no increase in fatalities: An analysis of United Kingdom national anaphylaxis data, 1992-2012. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 2015; 135(4), 956-963. Retrieved 2017.
6 Kalliomaki M et al. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlledtrial. Lancet. 2001;357(9262):1076–1079.
7 Berger A. Th1 and Th2 responses: what are they? BMJ. 2000; 321 (7258): 424.
8 Clavel T & Haller D Molecular interactions between bacteria, the epithelium, and the mucosal immune system in the intestinal tract: implications for chronic inflammation. Current issues in intestinal microbiology 2007;8(2):25-43.
9 Roberts, J.D, et al. An Exploratory Investigation of Endotoxin Levels in Novice Long Distance Triathletes, and the Effects of a Multi-Strain Probiotic/Prebiotic, Antioxidant Intervention. Nutrients, 2016: 8 (733).
10 Lescheid, DW. Probiotics as regulators of inflammation: A review. Funct Foods Health Dis. 2014; 4: 299–311.
11 Pessi T et al. Interleukin-10 generation in atopic children following oral Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Clin Exp Allergy. 2000; 30 (12): 1804-8.
12 Vanessa Garcia-Larsen et al. Diet during pregnancy and infancy and risk of allergic or autoimmune disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2018 Feb 28; 15(2).
13 Allen SJ et al 2014. Probiotics in the prevention of eczema: a randomised controlled trial. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2014; 99(11): 1014–1019