For many, allergies are a fact of life from childhood into their adult years.
Unfortunately, that number is on the rise, as recent studies have demonstrated an unprecedented increase in allergy, eczema and asthma rates.
While not all allergies are life-threatening, for some children, a dining hall lunch or a dinner out can lead to a trip to the emergency room. That being said, research shows there may be hope to cut back the number of parents diligently packing inhalers into backpacks and meticulously planning family trips around international cuisine.
The direct cause of allergies in children does vary, as factors such as heredity come into play. However, as with most ailments, diet plays a significant role in potentially mitigating the severity and frequency of allergic reactions in children. As we delve further into the positive effects of probiotics on the body, further tangible proof of their fighting power against allergies continues to arise.
Bacteria and the Body’s Immune System
Evidence shows the bacteria in our system at birth¹ heavily influences our likelihood of developing allergies as children. A direct correlation exists between our immune system’s response to allergens and the microbiome, or the bacteria, in our intestines. An imbalance in our gut’s microbiome can trigger anything from local inflammatory conditions—such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease—to allergies, asthma, and eczema.
With the evolution of the Western world and the shifting of our diets, our microbiome has also seen a change. The concept behind incorporating probiotics into our diet rests on the idea of improving the bacterial flora within our bodies, also known as dysbiosis. By eating better foods and creating better prebiotics to feed the bacteria within our system, its rate of symbiosis improves. With augmented levels of bacteria that our body interacts well with accumulating inside our intestines, we are able to alter the immune response to allergens, potentially resulting in lower rates of allergic reactions.
However, complicating this issue are numerous factors contributing to the bacteria levels within our systems. As Caesarean section births continue to rise, we’re witnessing fewer babies being exposed to crucial allergen-fighting bacteria during their birth. The effects of this are carried with the child for the rest of their life, contributing to their allergies and eczema.
For this reason, studies have shown vast improvements in the allergy risk of infants whose mothers ingested probiotics while they were pregnant, as well as when they were nursing.
Immune Cascade on a Cellular Level
When considering scientific studies on a cellular level, there are many different interactions that occur. You must consider the effects of immune responses on T cells, or T helper cells, as well as cytokines, all of which are related to bacteria and the body’s immune system. The effect of proper gut bacteria reaches the cellular level, where a complicated cascade of allergic-type reactions take place. Delving into this phenomenon, you can witness 10 or 20 different forms of immune cascades, which can all be linked to allergies and eczema. This proves the intensity of our allergic reactions, which go beyond skin-deep.
Outside Factors Contributing to Allergies
While the most prominent theory concerning allergies in children rests upon the levels of bacteria present in the body, certain outside factors also contribute to allergic reactions and eczema outbreaks. Our exposure to food and our prenatal exposure to elements through our mother’s body determine our natural immunity to aggravators. But as we age, we become more sensitive to health and lifestyle habits that alter our immune responses.
Stress factors and anxiety can trigger an eczema flare-up, an asthma attack or can cause uncontrollable hives to spread across our body. This demonstrates the multifaceted aspect of the issue and the near-impossibility to pinpoint a direct cause or a direct solution. Clinical studies only highlight this fact, as allergies can vary so drastically in and of themselves, but also in how they present themselves from one individual to another.
Probiotics and Allergies
When considering the plethora of allergy strains and their varying reactions to probiotics, it’s difficult to determine the extent to which they are a viable solution. In order to develop quantifiable evidence in support of probiotics as a solution to allergies, we would need to calculate complicated data, such as which bacteria are in each probiotic, how many billion colony forming units each has, how many are required to make an impact and in which carrier state they are.
Current research states that there are benefits, especially when consumed prenatally and in early life, with very little risk. While this is true, the exact data is difficult to measure because of a plethora of contributing factors.
The key to achieving the best possible outcome relies on balance, as with most things. In order to live the healthiest, least encumbered life, we must balance a clean, plant-based diet with supplements to control our healthy bacteria. This, in turn, balances our immunity, inflammation and physical reactions on a cellular level, leading to control over allergic reactions on a visible level. As we strive to arm our children with the best defenses while they grow and develop their delicate internal systems, probiotics are just one more weapon to make use of in our health arsenal.
¹ "The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an ...." https://firstname.lastname@example.org. Accessed 8 May. 2019.