A recent study by the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that babies who had less diverse colonies of gut bacteria at age three months were more likely to have food sensitivities—particularly to eggs, milk, and peanuts—by one year. In addition, differing levels of bacteria also appeared to influence food sensitivity ; sensitive babies had an overabundance of Enterobacteriaceae and lower than normal levels of Bacteroidaceae.
Another series of studies from the Wayne County Health, Environment, Allergy and Asthma Longitudinal Study (WHEALS) research team in San Francisco also supported the theory. Their studies, six in all, provided a great deal of intriguing data. According to WHEAL researchers, breast-fed babies had much more diverse gut bacteria than bottle-fed babies, The WHEAL researches were also able to detect bacterial imbalance in breast fed babies whose bacterial profile was dominated by the bacteria Lachnospiraceae. The breast-fed babies were less likely to have allergies. Other factors that influenced the composition of gut bacteria included method of birth (vaginal or cesaerean section), maternal smoking, the gestational age of the baby at birth and, interestingly, marital status of the mother.
As the incidence of allergies and childhood asthma rises worldwide, research like this may have a profound impact. Says Karin Pachero, MD, of the Colorado School of Public Health, “I think we will learn how to manipulate the microbial environment to achieve the health and absence of disease — certainly allergic disease — that we’re looking for.”
In fact, there is already solid evidence supporting the supplementation of bacteria and allergy prevention. Back in 2003 the journal Current Opinion in Allergy and Immunology reported that administering Lactobacillus—the bacterium present in active culture yogurt—reduced the incidence of atopic eczema by half during the first two years of life. This suggests that probiotics may be beneficial in allergy prevention and treatment.