‘Tis that time of year when the sneezes are upon us. Allergies flare up & noses run wild as our immune systems seemingly go awry throughout the Spring weather. You might be surprised to find, though, that the bugs in your gut are an important ally to have during allergy season. Through their immuno-modulating effects & their influence on intestinal permeability, your microbiome can stand you in good stead to deal with allergies & hay fever.
A systematic review published on the topic in 2015 examined 23 prominent studies in the area of probiotics & allergic rhinitis (hay fever), covering a total of 1,919 participants. The researchers looked mainly at the subjective quality of life reported by the participants throughout the 23 studies.
What the review found is that of the 23 studies, 17 found that there were significant improvements in the questionnaires for participants taking probiotics. That is for 74% of the studies, allergy sufferers reported big improvements in quality of life whilst taking probiotics compared to those who didn’t. In the studies which did measure blood indicators of allergic response, changes were not statistically significant (the participants’ perceived benefit was the most striking difference).
Studies have looked at individual strains of probiotics to help reduce allergic symptoms. One group of researchers were able to reduce allergic symptoms in patients using Lactobacillus casei Shirota whilst others have used Lactobacillus Rhamnosus (LGG strain) regularly to the same effect.
The key, it seems, is that modulating the microbiome by ingesting probiotic supplements (with specific strains) may indeed reduce hay fever/allergy symptoms. But how does this work? As I’ve written about extensively in previous articles & The Gut Healing Protocol the population of your microbiome, that is the different bacteria, yeast, parasites, viruses & protozoa which live on & inside of you, is constantly communicating with your immune system, quite literally sending out messages of ‘health’ or ‘dis-ease’.
The gut epithelium (the gut lining) is an extremely sensitive part of the gastrointestinal system & it is at this site in which much of our immune activity occurs (around 80-90% in fact). Hay fever it seems is simply an increased sensitivity/irritation of the mucous membranes of the gastro-intestinal system and subsequently further irritation of the olfactory & oropharynx mucous membranes. This can be caused by an excessive histamine response in the body from the degranulation of specific immune cells – importantly LGG has actually been shown to down regulate this process, an important indicator that probiotic-immune cell interaction is probably at the root of allergic response.
In an era where the symptom-based approach has quite literally spiralled out of control, examining & focusing on the root cause of such conditions as allergies & hay fever is probably a much smarter approach.
On the basis of the research it can be said quite confidently that the regular intake of probiotics throughout the year (as opposed to only during allergy season) is our best option for the prevention of allergic symptoms.
Microbes have also been implicated in the development and restoration of food allergies. In The Gut Healing Protocol I also describe where increased intestinal permeability, Leaky Gut, can often be the root cause of food allergies due to a constant bombardment of undigested, macromolecules of food passing into the bloodstream, causing an immune response within the body. The body reacts as it would any consistent, foreign invader & develops specific antibodies to quickly & efficiently nullify the substances – the reaction which takes place. As shown in this study, by harnessing the gut-restorative power of probiotics, one may be able to restore integrity to the gut lining & stop this phenomenon from occurring.
The immune system & the gastrointestinal population of microbes are intimately linked. If we are to appreciate that many forms of illness have origins in inflammation & that most inflammation itself has origins in the gut, our approach to creating wellness across the board should focus largely on the rebalancing of our microbiome. Through diet, supplements & a long-term restorative approach, this can certainly be achieved!
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Sources for this article include:
Zajac, A., Adams, A. and Turner, J. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis.
Ivory K, Wilson AM, Sankaran P, Westwood M, McCarville J, Brockwell C, et al. (2013) Oral Delivery of a Probiotic Induced Changes at the Nasal Mucosa of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis Subjects after Local Allergen Challenge: A Randomised Clinical Trial.
A/S, C. (2016). Lactobacillus GG (LGG®). [online] Available at: http://www.chr-hansen.com/en/probiotic-supplements-and-infant-formula/cards/product-cards/lactobacillus-rhamnosus-gg-trademark-lgg
Oksaharju, A. (2016). Probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus downregulates FCER1 and HRH4 expression in human mast cells.
Disclaimer: Remember to always work with your well qualified, nutritionally-versed practitioner when it comes to the management & treatment of illness. The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only & should not be considered medical advice.