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The days are drawing out after a long winter and whilst many delight in this thought, hay fever sufferers may be filled with dread at the thought of itching, wheezing, hives, or streaming eyes as the pollen season starts. Allergy on the whole, or hypersensitivity of the immune system, is becoming all the more common. Up to 20% of people with allergies struggle daily with fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction.[i] So, we’re keen to empower you with the knowledge you need to help yourself and your loved ones.
Allergy UK defines an allergy as “the response of the body's immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollen, food, and house dust mites. While for 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 different to a food intolerance, or sensitivity, which may cause more delayed symptoms such as bloating or gas, and does not involve an extreme immune reaction.
In the UK, a staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergic condition and the number of sufferers is on the rise, having grown by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone.[ii] The percentage of children diagnosed with allergic rhinitis and atopic eczema have trebled over the last 30 years.[iii] Food allergies are a cause of particular concern in young children, where the incidence is estimated to be greater in toddlers (5-8%) than in adults (1-2%).[iv] In the 20 years leading up to 2012, there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in the UK,[v] so it’s time that we took action.
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 manage symptoms too.
There are many ways in which probiotics support the immune system. Research is growing regarding the connection between gut integrity, the balance of the gut microbiome, and allergic tendencies.[vi] Probiotics teach the immune system appropriate ways to respond.[vii] They strengthen the integrity of the gut wall[viii] and reduce inflammation,[ix] which overall helps to calm an otherwise hyper-reactive immune system, as typically seen in allergies.[x] The probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, in particular, has been shown to regulate the body’s allergic response and reduce inflammatory markers.[xi]
Of particular interest to parents wanting to minimise the likelihood of their child developing an allergy in the first place, 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 prevalence in children by 22%. They also found evidence to suggest that a daily omega-3 supplement taken from 20 weeks of pregnancy into the first 3-4 months of breastfeeding helped to reduce the risk of allergies too.[xii] Therefore, supplementing with both probiotics and omega-3 could be of particular benefit for allergy prevention.
A specific blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium may help to prevent allergy in children, potentially reducing lifelong incidence. Infants (from birth to six months) that took this probiotic combination were 57% less likely to develop atopic eczema than those receiving 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.[xiii]
A healthy gut has been shown to help with both preventing and managing allergy. It is evident that probiotics hold significant, well-evidenced potential for helping to prevent allergy and support better management of debilitating symptoms for existing allergy sufferers, thus improving quality of life. In our clinical experience, they work best when taken as part of a holistic protocol which includes a range of other nutritional and lifestyle interventions.
For more tailored advice, please contact our Clinical Nutrition Team on 0121 433 8702 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, we recommend that you seek the advice of a registered Nutritional Therapist in your area.
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[i] EAACI. Tackling the allergy crisis in Europe - Concerted policy action needed. 2016 March.
[ii] Foods Matter. 2010. Mintel’s Allergy and Allergy Remedies UK. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from Foods Matter: http: // www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/miscellane...
[iii] Gupta RSA. Time trends in allergic disorders in the UK. Thorax, 2007, 62(1), 91-96.
[iv] Pawankar RCG. The WAO White Book on Allergy (Update 2013).
[v] Turner PJ. 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.
[vi] Kalliomaki M et al. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001; 357(9262):1076–1079.
[vii] Berger A. Th1 and Th2 responses: what are they? BMJ. 2000; 321 (7258): 424.
[viii] 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.
[ix] Roberts JD 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).
[x] Lescheid DW. Probiotics as regulators of inflammation: A review. Funct Foods Health Dis. 2014; 4: 299–311.
[xi] Pessi T et al. Interleukin-10 generation in atopic children following oral Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Clin Exp Allergy. 2000; 30 (12): 1804-8.
[xii] 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).
[xiii] Allen SJ et al. Probiotics in the prevention of eczema: a randomised controlled trial. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2014; 99(11): 1014–1019