Research

Certain Gut Bacteria May Prevent and Even Reverse Food Allergies

According to a new study from researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital.


gut bacteria

Photo via Getty Images/Neydtstock

Food allergies only continue to be more prevalent. Between the years 1997-2007 food allergies among children under age 18 increased by nearly 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only that, but these children are 2-4 times more likely to have other health conditions, like asthma. And if you are someone, or have ever been around someone, who has a food allergy, you know how scary, and mentally draining it can be to make sure you never come in contact with that food. Although the rising prevalence of these conditions can only be hypothesized, recent research is coming out to offer solutions.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s and Boston Children’s Hospitals identified a certain strain of gut bacteria that may protect against food allergies, and their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Nature Medicine

The study included analysis of fecal matter from 56 infants who developed food allergies every four to six months. They compared that with 98 infants who did not develop food allergies. Drawing from these comparisons, they were able to identify bacteria associated with protection, and even reversal, of food allergies.

Using these findings, they tested the different bacteria on mice to see if they would be protected from an egg allergy, which the mice were sensitized to. Their findings revealed two different strains of bacteria that protected and reversed food allergies in the mice, by reinforcing the tolerance to those foods.

“This represents a sea change in our approach to therapeutics for food allergies,” Lynn Bry, co-senior author and director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center at the Brigham, said in a release. “We’ve identified the microbiomes that are associated with protection and the ones that are associated with food allergies in patients. If we administer defined therapies based on this, not only can we prevent food allergies from happening, but we can reverse existing food allergies in preclinical models. With these microbes, we are resetting the immune system.”

This is different from how food allergies are currently treated through oral immunotherapy, which is thought to increase the tolerance for the food by increasing the amounts of food that person is exposed to. Using a new therapy based on gut bacteria is quite literally changing the immune system from the inside. It’s not only desensitizing those with allergies to that specific food, but potentially treating them of the allergy entirely.