Probiotics may be key to fighting food allergies

New research in mice suggests a common gut bacteria could one day help millions who suffer from food allergies.

A common bacteria often found in our guts may one day be part of a potent biological shield protecting people from food allergens. Researchers at the University of Chicago School of Medicine found that in mice, the Clostridia bacteria kicked up immune responses that prevent food allergies from entering the bloodstream. The discovery suggests probiotics may be a key to future therapies treating food allergies, which currently affect 15 million Americans.

Researchers spoke about their findings this month at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in Chicago. The research was noted on

In the study, senior author Cathryn Nagler, PhD, Bunning Food Allergy Professor at the University of Chicago, and her team exposed germ-free mice born and raised in sterile conditions (that did not have resident microorganisms in their guts) and mice treated with antibiotics as newborns (significantly reducing gut bacteria) to peanut allergens. Both groups had a dramatic immunological response. But when researchers reintroducted a mix of Clostridia bacteria back into the mice, that sensitivity to peanut allergens was reversed.

“While complex and largely undetermined factors such as genetics greatly affect whether individuals develop food allergies and how they manifest, the identification of a bacteria-induced barrier-protective response represents a new paradigm for preventing sensitization to food,” according to a university release. “Clostridia bacteria are common in humans and represent a clear target for potential therapeutics that prevent or treat food allergies. Nagler and her team are working to develop and test compositions that could be used for probiotic therapy and have filed a provisional patent.”
"It's exciting because we know what the bacteria are; we have a way to intervene," Nagler said in the release. "There are of course no guarantees, but this is absolutely testable as a therapeutic against a disease for which there's nothing. As a mom, I can imagine how frightening it must be to worry every time your child takes a bite of food."

Rates of food allergies in children have risen approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to the release.

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