The identification of allergy-protecting bacteria living in your gut paves the way for new treatment options in the fight against growing food allergy rates, say scientists from the University of Chicago.
A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found Clostridia, a common type of gut bacteria, minimizes allergen exposure and prevents sensitization in mice by causing an immune reaction that prevents food allergens from entering their bloodstream.
Food allergies have been on the rise in western culture in recent years. In the United States, allergy rates have jumped roughly 50 per cent between 1997 and 2011, linked through studies to antibiotic and antimicrobial use. Around 2.5 million Canadians have self-reported at least one food allergy, with Anaphylaxis Canada labelling it a “growing public health issue.”
“All of these different western lifestyle stimuli including antibiotics, high-fat diets, Cesarean birth, formula feeding … have changed the way our immune system is stimulated and changed the populations of bacteria that are present in the gut, collectively making us more susceptible to a number of diseases” including allergies, said Cathryn Nagler, the study’s senior author and Bunning food allergy professor at the University of Chicago.
Identifying Clostridia as an allergy protection could help combat that susceptibility.
Nagler’s team tested mice born germ-free and those treated with antibiotics, exposing them to peanut allergens eliciting strong immunological responses in both. When scientists then reintroduced Clostridia bacteria, they were able to reverse the mice’s food allergen sensitization. When they tried the same process with Bacteroides, other common gut bacteria, there was no change.
“The fact that we could show so clearly that this particular bacterial population regulated the detection of the allergen in the blood stream was a big surprise,” Nagler said, but now, “we can use the information in this study to develop novel probiotic therapies, taking these bacteria and developing them as a drug.”
There’s currently no treatment for allergies, although specialists try antigen-desensitization protocol, essentially giving kids tiny amounts orally of what they’re allergic to. A Clostridia drug could help with that, Nagler says.
And while more study is needed, Dr. Paul Keith, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, said it’s “very interesting research.”
“It gives people hope that there may be some way that we can re-teach the gut to react,” he said.
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