Danisco and Turku University are behind the first study to demonstrate that dietary supplementation with probiotic cultures may relieve the symptoms of birch pollen allergy.
Published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, the study was performed by leading researchers in the area of allergy and probiotics from Turku University Hospital and Turku University in collaboration with Danisco Health & Nutrition in Finland.
A daily dose of two documented probiotic cultures, combined at a specific ratio, reduced the inflammatory response in the nasal mucus membranes to birch pollen and produced indications that respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose and nasal blocking, were alleviated by approximately 20% each.
The findings are a promising first step towards developing a probiotic alternative or supplement to traditional antihistamine treatments, which can give side effects such as drowsiness and dry mouth.
The right probiotic mix
“Previous studies have combined probiotic strains at a ratio of 1:1. The innovative aspect of our study was that we used an adapted ratio in an attempt to find the right probiotic mix,” says Dr Arthur Ouwehand, leader of the research team at Danisco Health & Nutrition.
The 47 volunteers who participated in the study were all children between 4 and 13 years old diagnosed with birch pollen allergy. Starting a month before the onset of the birch pollen season, all were given a daily dose of either a placebo or the probiotic combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis B1-04.
Positive supplement to medication
Treatment continued for four months. All the children received their usual antihistamine treatment during this time.
“Even though the children were already taking established medication, the probiotics clearly showed a positive effect,” says Dr Ouwehand.
In addition, the study enabled to observe for the first time general changes in the composition of the intestinal microflora during the pollen season.
“This may provide new ground for additional studies on respiratory allergies,” the researchers state.
Further investigation is necessary to confirm the study findings.
About 100 million people around the world are allergic to birch pollen that can lead to severe asthma attacks. Birch pollen (Betula spp.) is considered to be the main cause of seasonal allergies in Europe and an important allergen in Canada and the north-eastern United States. The World Health Organization said half of the world's population could be affected by allergies by 2010.