According to a June 2012 news release by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the incidence of food allergies in children has doubled over the course of the last decade. Even more frightening, however, is that in the same time period, there has been a seven-fold increase in life-threatening allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis.
Theories abound to explain the cause(s) of this epidemic, ranging from environmental contaminants and vaccine additives, to a lack of exposure to beneficial microorganisms (the “hygiene hypothesis”), and consumption of inferior quality foods. Many doctors and researchers from the Paleo/Primal community at least partially attribute food allergies to the overabundance of wheat products in the Western diet (this blog post offers a very good explanation of that theory).
What has become clear, however, is that the formerly common practice of delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods does not appear to offer any protective benefits. Also being called into question is the longstanding recommendation to delay the introduction of solid foods until a child has reached six months of age. Recent studies show that the introduction of solid as early as four months is correlated with a lower risk of eczema and food allergies.
Consequently, most major child health organizations have rescinded their previous (more restrictive) guidelines for the introduction of solids, in favour of a much more relaxed approach. The American Association of Pediatrics, for example, used to recommend avoiding cow’s milk until one year of age, eggs until two years and peanuts until three years. These recommendations were in place from 2000 to 2008. Their most recent guidelines (February 2012) now state, “Many pediatricians recommend against giving eggs and fish in the first year of life because of allergic reactions, but there is no evidence that introducing these nutrient-dense foods [at] 4 to 6 months of age determines whether your baby will be allergic to them.”
Recent studies show that there is a strong correlation between atopic dermatitis (eczema) and the development of food allergies. Much of the research into the use of probiotics for the prevention and treatment of allergies thus focuses on reductions in the incidence and/or severity of atopic dermatitis
The results of one study that appeared in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggests a link between low gut flora in infancy and subsequent eczema. Another study found support for the use of probiotics in the management and prevention of childhood eczema, with evidence that earlier introduction of probiotics may be most effective, and may also play a role in the prevention of gastrointestinal (food-related) allergies.
A recent Polish study investigated the importance of gut flora on immune function and reactivity, and the effectiveness of probiotic supplements in the reduction of allergies; while another study found that babies with known cow’s milk allergies who received probiotic supplementation alongside their cow’s milk formula were more likely to outgrow the allergy.
A European study of mice showed that certain probiotic strains may have a prophylactic effect on peanut allergies. This could have applications to the prevention of peanut allergies in humans.
To date, doctors still do not fully understand why some children are more prone to allergies than others, nor do they have any conclusive, irrefutable evidence for the use of probiotics in the prevention and management of allergies. However, the current body of research is sufficiently compelling that a growing number of mainstream medical practitioners, including pediatric allergists, are now recommending probiotic supplementation both as a preventative measure and for the treatment of existing allergies.
Have you ever administered probiotics to your child in order to prevent or treat allergic tendencies?