Food Allergies and Gut Bacteria

A few weeks ago, my mom sent me these articles:

Gut bacteria that protect against food allergies identified
Reason Behind Increasing Food Allergies Discovered

This is an interesting concept.  If you don’t feel like reading the articles, the gist is that researchers have identified a class of gut bacteria, Clostridia, which, when absent from the bodies of mice, caused the mice to develop allergies to peanut when exposed in the lab.  When the bacteria was reintroduced to the mice, they showed reduced allergen levels in their blood.  In other words, these manufactured allergies were reversible, to some extent, with the reintroduction of the missing bacteria.

This class of bacteria is common in humans, and so researchers are wondering if heavy antibiotic usage (in an individual or at the population level) is wiping out these friendly bugs and making children more likely to develop food allergies.  And more than than, they’re wondering if reintroduction of Clostridia to allergic individuals could help in some way.
This jar is clean and has never been opened.
My kids’ toy is safe.

I found the first article to be more helpful than the second.  The first is from a scientific source, and so focused on the actual study and its findings, whereas the second clearly hyped up the findings for a more enticing headline.

This study left me with a lot of questions, but many leave a hopeful feeling behind:
  • How does this explain children who never received antibiotics as a baby–or at least never before their diagnosis?  Is heavy antibiotic usage in the population reducing their chances of picking up this beneficial bacteria?
  • If the results prove applicable to humans, are we talking about a “cure” for those already affected, or an “immunization” of sorts to help prevent the development of food allergies in infants?
  • Does this apply to all levels of allergic reactions, or are some people (those most at risk for anaphylaxis, for example) less likely to see any therapeutic effects?  After all, the article said the bacteria helps prevent the allergens from entering the bloodstream, but some people react anaphylactically when the smallest amount of an allergen touches their mouth.  That’s long before the food enters the bloodstream.
Personally, I don’t feel that this is the cause of food allergies, or even of increasing food allergy rates.  I do think it is probably one of many contributing factors that make a person more prone to developing food allergies.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the “microbiome,” the community of microorganisms that share our bodies with us.  An article in Scientific American a year or so ago had identified a strain of bacteria (or maybe it was a virus, can’t remember) found in the lungs of healthy humans, but which is absent from those with asthma.  Every time it comes up, I’ve wondered if tweaking the microbiome, especially with reintroduction of its symbiotic members, might be the future of medical science.  And here is a study that aims to do just that!

What do you think?
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