Allergies are on the rise worldwide. In the U.S., hospital visits for food allergies tripled between 1993 and 2006, and between 2013 and 2019 in England, there was a 72% increase in hospital admissions for children with anaphylaxis.
One argument says the increase is because we’re getting better at identifying allergies, but the fact is that more people are allergic to more substances than in the past. Peer-reviewed sources say that allergies worldwide have increased from 3% of the population in 1960 to 7% in 2018.
Why have incidences of allergies increased? Researchers do not have the complete answer, but they are investigating the relationship of probiotics and allergies and how better gut health can support the immune system, because 70% of our immune system is in the gut.
Understanding Allergies and the Immune System
An allergy occurs when the immune system thinks a harmless substance is dangerous to the body. The body then rallies defenses to combat the foreign substance, which can cause uncomfortable reactions. The problem is that our bodies are classifying more and more everyday substances as dangerous and reacting accordingly.
Physically, contact with an allergen causes the body to release histamines which creates an inflammatory response. Research has shown that allergies can also have psychological effects as well. Kids who suffer from food allergies, particularly severe instances, and who must strictly control their exposure, are more likely to be bullied or experience social exclusion, and may be more likely to have anxiety and depression, particularly as they enter adolescence.
Allergies can cause an entire range of reactions, from benign to life-threatening. For one person, peanuts might cause a rash or a runny nose. For another, they could cause airways to close and require an emergency room visit. Here is a list of common mild to severe allergy symptoms:
- Stuffy nose
- Coughing and sneezing
- Shortness of breath
- Itching or runny nose
Anaphylaxis is the most critical type of allergic reaction that can cause symptoms that require medical attention. Foods and insect stings are the most common causes of extreme allergic reactions such as the following.
- Passing out
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid or weak pulse
An anaphylactic reaction requires immediate emergency medical attention.
Probiotics and Immune Modulation
Researchers are finding that a healthy gut with a diverse collection of beneficial microorganisms may better be able to regulate the body’s immune response. In other words, probiotics may help with food and seasonal allergies and help allergy sufferers better tolerate histamines. Those with intolerances, allergies, and sensitivities often have poor gut health, and while avoidance and medications help, gut biome improvement could be a game changer.
Our immune systems are subject to constant threats: pathogens, stress, physical injuries, environmental toxins, air pollution, etc. The two primary systems that comprise our immune system deal with these threats.
The Innate Immune System
Our innate immune system creates barriers to unfriendly microorganisms and substances through our skin, mucous membranes, hairs, and inflammatory responses. This part of our immune system has little adaptive potential but depends on another system – our adaptive immune system – to handle new situations.
The Adaptive Immune System
The adaptive immune system produces responses to new threats and remembers these responses long-term in case you encounter those challenges again. The adaptive system produces two responses:
- The cell-mediated immune response uses activated T cells.
- The humoral response uses antibodies B lymphocytes produce to remove pathogenic microorganisms outside the body cells.
Recent investigations suggest that probiotics influence the adaptive immune response, signaling the messengers that tell immune cells what to do. This activity indicates the need for strain specificity in choosing which probiotic to use.
Gut Microbiota’s Influence on Immune Response
While research is ongoing, scientists are finding that one of the significant abilities of probiotics is regulating immune response. The gut’s immune system learns to differentiate friendly from pathogenic bacteria, which helps prompt immune cell production and regulate antibody production.
One of the ways friendly bacteria help bring the immune system into balance is by adhering to the intestinal lining and crowding out pathogens and toxins.
When the immune system operates well, it adapts to different threats and brings the body back to homeostasis by triggering immune responses and creating inflammation. When the immune system is out of balance, an immune response can cause severe inflammation, tissue damage, and other unpleasant or life-threatening allergic reactions.
Research is pointing toward the need to isolate which probiotic strains are helpful for particular conditions, and scientists repeatedly point to the need for more investigation.
Probiotics as Immune Modulators
Histamines are the primary chemical in the body affecting allergies. When the gut is out of balance, histamines build up in the system and can trigger allergies. This response can be due to unfriendly gut bacteria producing histamines, problems breaking down histamines because of a damaged intestinal lining, and immune system overreaction that produces higher histamine levels.
Researchers found that Lactobacillus L3C21M6 had the highest histamine-reducing abilities among the strains they tested. Some other Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains have also reduced histamine levels. These findings show a promising relationship between gut bacteria and seasonal allergies.
Probiotics and Allergies
When we focus on gut biome health, introducing friendly strains of bacteria into the intestines, researchers find that good bacteria replace harmful bacteria, addressing the overproduction of histamines and their resulting inflammation. This action begins to heal the gut and reduce allergy responses.
Easing Allergic Responses
Several recent studies have found that the introduction of different types of probiotics improves allergic responses. Here are two examples:
Japanese researchers tested 40 people allergic to Japanese Cedar, giving the test group Bifidobacterium longum BB536 in yogurt and the placebo group yogurt without the Bifidobacterium. The group that received the probiotic had lower levels of itching, runny nose, and nasal blockage.
The two bacteria researchers have found to have the most promise for allergy sufferers are different strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Both have shown the potential to reduce gut permeability and inflammatory responses by healing intestinal wounds and preventing damage to the gut lining.
Regulation of Immune Tolerance
Immune tolerance is the body’s ability to prevent an immune response toward a specific antigen. A healthy immune system protects the body, targeting only harmful antigens and ignoring the body’s organs, tissues, and cells. When the immune system is not healthy, it can mistake healthy systems for pathogens and attack the body, creating autoimmune issues or food allergies.
Scientists believe that immune dysfunction may happen because the gut bacteria and other immune cells are not communicating correctly. This miscommunication is often the result of our modern lifestyle. With a propensity to overuse antibiotics, consume a poor diet, and live a germ-free lifestyle, it’s not surprising that many Americans have an unhealthy gut microbiome.
Of course even with efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, we may still need to take an antibiotic from time to time, or splurge on some unhealthy food. This can harm our probiotics, the friendly bacteria in our intestines, that provide our first line of defense against harmful bacteria and viruses. They also communicate with our immune system to improve our immune response. Fortunately, it is possible to replenish the beneficial bacteria in the gut with a high quality probiotic supplement.
Boosting Gut Microbiome Health
Statistics show that allergies are increasing worldwide, and that the immune system plays a large role. What can we do about prevention?
How We Live
Some scientists hypothesize that we are much too sterile in our daily living protocols. We clean our homes and bodies with antibacterial cleaners and soaps and take antibiotics to kill pathogenic bacteria. These experts believe that we need to be exposed to microbes in our environment to create a diverse microbiome that produces a healthy immune system and helps reduce allergies.
Our Daily Habits
We can include particular habits in our daily lives that help support gut health and a healthy immune system.
- A healthy diet – Eating foods that contain fiber, such as fruits and vegetables, helps build good bacteria and gut health.
- Quality sleep – Quality sleep positively effects memory, weight, emotions and appearance. Poor sleep is also associated with obesity, which can impact digestion.
- Move more – Moving your body helps manage weight and improve digestion.
- Manage stress – Scientists have identified the gut-brain connection that links mental health to physical health. Taking steps to support mental health, such as relaxation therapies or medication through your health practitioner, goes a long way toward improving gut health.
- Add probiotics to your diet – Try fermented foods. If you do not enjoy these foods, or prefer more information about the probiotics you are ingesting, a probiotic supplement is a convenient option, especially if it contains multiple strains for gut biome diversity.
Choosing the Right Probiotic Strains
The aspect of probiotics that researchers are studying most today is how specific strains of probiotics impact particular conditions. Many studies have included various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains to increase the microbiome’s diversity. However, scientists still want to pinpoint the most effective for each condition.
Strains with Allergy-Modulating Potential
Which probiotics are best for allergies? Several probiotic strains are associated with allergy support.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus johnsonii
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Bacillus clausii
While researchers most frequently use Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium strains individually in studies, recent efforts have evaluated the effect of probiotic combinations. For instance,
- Researchers combined Lactobacillus GG (LGG) and L. gasseri for nasal allergies
- Scientists also investigated a combination of L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis
- A different study used eight probiotic strains: four of lactobacilli, three of bifidobacteria, and one of Streptococcus thermophilus
In particular, researchers believe that Lactobacillus rhamnosus may promote friendly gut bacteria, help with allergy symptoms, and suppress pathogenic bacteria.
Importance of Strain Diversity
Much of our health rests on on the diversity of microorganisms in our gut. Research has shown that microbiome diversity is higher in healthy individuals and lower in those with chronic conditions.
When we consume multiple strains to improve the microbiome, we receive benefits to various body systems from the different strains’ individual actions. Researchers find that this concerted action creates the most significant advantages for our immune system.
Incorporating Probiotics for Allergy Support
For centuries, people naturally incorporated probiotics into their diets. They fermented sauerkraut, cultured yogurt, and created wild sourdough starters. Today, we have some of those same options, and we also have high-quality supplements available.
Probiotic-Rich Foods and Supplements
If you try probiotics for allergy relief, you should include several probiotic-rich foods in your diet. If you enjoy their taste, they can be a helpful addition to a balanced diet.
If not, you might consider a supplement or include both. Make sure that any foods you choose include live cultures. A food like buttermilk has naturally fermented versions and other versions without live cultures. However, probiotic foods have no guarantees regarding probiotics’ number, viability, or makeup. Naturally fermented versions of these foods and beverages typically contain probiotics:
A quality probiotic supplement lists the live, active bacteria it contains and the other included ingredients. Choose a supplement that contains multiple strains and only natural ingredients, with no complicated chemicals. If you enjoy probiotic foods, you can enjoy those along with a supplement.
Consultation with Healthcare Professionals
If you want to try probiotics to strengthen your immune system, the best practice is to check with your health practitioner first. While probiotics are generally considered safe, those with certain chronic health conditions, a recent surgery, or an extended hospital stay should consult their doctor before starting with a probiotic supplement.
Embrace Allergy Relief through Probiotic Care
As researchers continue to investigate the role of probiotics and gut health in various conditions, they are seeing the possibility that the immune modulation and inflammatory response balancing conferred by a healthy microbiome can benefit overall health.
Scientists are still studying how a healthy microbiome impacts allergies and how probiotics and allergies are connected. Results so far are promising, but additional studies are needed. Talk with your doctor about whether probiotics may help your allergies.
Dr. Ohhira’s probiotic supplements help support microbiome diversity, which researchers believe supports a more balanced immune response. If you would like to prioritize your gut health as a comprehensive approach to allergy support, we’ll be happy to talk with you. Contact us online or call 972-255-3918.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16689181/ https://www.optibacprobiotics.com/professionals/latest-research/general-health/examining-research-on-probiotics-for-immunity https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/hygiene-hypothesis-could-more-dirt-and-germs-boost-your-health