Friday, January 13, 2012

gut health linked to allergies

probiotic - lactobacillus bulgaricus | photo: Gengiskanhg
A recent study done in Sweden entitled, "Low diversity of the gut microbiota in infants with atopic eczema" appears to show that higher diversity in infant gut microflora  lowers the chance of allergies, including eczema.

This is of interest for a number of reasons.  One, it appears to back up the Hygiene Hypothesis.  This is the idea that if our environment is too clean it doesn't provide the diversity we need and also encourages the body to attack "harmless antigens."  Two, it provides further information about the role of certain beneficial bacteria.  Examples included proteobacteria protecting against allergies while bacteroides appear to be useful against inflammation.  Three, it shows, yet again, the connection between the gut and health.  Four, it highlights, to me, the dangers of the over-use of antibiotics.  I have written briefly about antibiotics in our food supply here and here.

The more antibiotics that appear in our food system, the higher the toll they take on our bodies.  Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and creator of the GAPS Diet, tells us that when she looks at dysfunction in the gut she traces it back over at least three generations.  The less healthy flora the parents have to pass on, the fewer strains will be available to inoculate the baby.  Dr. Campbell-McBride has found the effect to be cumulative over the generations.

What does all of this mean?  In addition to cleaning up our irresponsible use of antibiotics in the food supply, it also means that we need to do what we can to ensure a strong, healthy eco-system in our gut.  We need to create a rich supply of diverse prebiotic and probiotic colonies.  How to accomplish this?  Adding fermented foods to the diet such as kefir is a good start.  Other fermented foods could include yogurt and kombucha.  Also eating a diet high in fiber, especially soluble fibers which are fermented by the bacteria in the gut will help.  Should you require taking antibiotics it is vitally important that you take them as prescribed and finish the dose to avoid creating resistant bacteria.  You will also need to re-inoculate your system by taking probiotics (antibiotics wipe out both good and bad bacteria).

While this study from Sweden highlighted the benefits of a richly diverse gut colony in infants for protecting them against allergies, I feel that supporting the gut at any time is beneficial.  I believe probiotic support can go a long way toward helping to regain or maintain healthy gut function.


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