Probiotics have been linked to benefits such as improved gut health, decreased infections, and increased immunity. Recent research also indicates that they may offer hope to those with allergies.
As stated before on this site (see Probiotics May Help Fight Flu Symptoms and others), the beneficial bacteria in your intestines play a very important role in immunity.
It makes sense when you consider that your gut is the largest protective wall between you and the outside world. To provide some protection to the body, the gut creates a "mucosal barrier" to help keep out the bad stuff. This barrier is built up of the cells of the gut, a mucous layer and the gut bacteria. When bacteria, pathogens, or allergens cross this barrier and enter the blood stream, the immune system responds.
The immune system needs to have a balance between actively responding to a threat and knowing when to stop. Active responses cause inflammation, which is necessary to eliminate infections. However, if the immune response doesn't know when to stop, inflammation keeps going, resulting in an inflammatory disease. Probiotics help the immune system to develop "stop" responses, so that you don't overreact to something harmless like food or pollens.
Researchers are looking at whether populating your gut with the right probiotics could be the key to easing those allergy symptoms. They have found that taking probiotics may decrease allergic reactions in the gut, such as food allergies, and whole body allergic reactions as well, such as eczema, hay fever and possibly even asthma.
• Prevent food allergy by promoting better gut barrier mechanisms and lessening intestinal inflammation.
• Reduce the levels of serum IgE, which are the antibodies involved in an allergic response
• Reduce the Th2 cytokine response, which is what creates a pronounced allergic response
• Promote the development of and stimulate immune response
A series of studies have specifically focused on gut bacteria and the development of allergies or allergy-related conditions in infants and children.
In one Finnish study, the children of mothers who were given probiotics during pregnancy and for six months of breast-feeding showed half the rate of atopic eczema at four years than the group whose mothers were given placebos. And according to a new study from the Netherlands, daily supplements of a multi-bacterial strain food may reduce the risk of eczema by 58 per cent during the first three months of life. Atopic eczema is often the first sign of allergies and asthma in children.
Another study involved children from Western and Eastern cultures. It not only found that more children from the Western culture developed allergies but also that they had a higher percentage of harmful bacteria in their guts before the allergies were developed.
These studies have grown out of the awareness that people in the modern Western world – the more "hygienic" countries – have a much higher incidence of allergies than people in the rest of the world. The hypothesis is that infants need to be exposed to microbes early in their lives so the microbes will stimulate their immune systems to learn how to function properly (i.e. attack harmful microorganisms). If infants are not properly exposed to microbes, their immune systems begin to over-react and attack substances that are not harmful, such as food and environmental allergens. Probiotics can provide the stimulation that the immature immune systems need to develop.
More research needs to be done in this exciting area to determine exactly how probiotics and allergies are linked. And probiotics will not take the place of allergy medications or products that help relieve symptoms for those experiencing allergic reactions. But it does appear that the unique way probiotics strengthen the immune system may also play an important role in reducing allergic responses.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria bifidum, two of the beneficial bacteria being used in the studies, can be found in Immunity Support, along with 20 other immune-balancing nutrients, herbs and extracts.