Your child’s gut health and food allergies

There could be a close link between your child’s gut health and food allergies. But the solution goes beyond supplementing with a probiotic.

gut health and food allergies

We tend to think of our gut as the place where digestion occurs and where we absorb nutrients from our food. But the role of the gut is far more extensive than that and the health of this complex organ could be closely linked to your child’s food allergies.

The role of the gut beyond digestion

So beyond digestion and absorption of nutrients, what other jobs does your gut perform?

  • The gut is home to approximately two-thirds of the body’s lymphocytes which makes up our immune system. This can explain the link between allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, mental health (just to name a few) and gut health.

  • The enteric nervous system is located in the gastrointestinal tract where nerves carry constant messages to the brain. A person’s impaired gut health can be the cause or the result of feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

  • Trillions of microbes call the gut home making up an entire ecosystem of bacteria, yeast and viruses. The state of your gut flora can play both a positive and negative influence on your health and wellbeing.

  • The gut is integral to how well you detoxify to remove unnecessary substances from the body. Working alongside your liver, the gut helps to stop toxins from infiltrating your tissues and removes them from the body.

Gut health and food allergies – the link

While the exact underlying cause of allergies remains unclear, the gut microbiota has been identified as a key contributing factor for the development of food sensitives, allergies and intolerances.  

So much so, modulation of the gut flora could help alleviate a person’s food allergies and intolerances and restore their ability to tolerate certain trigger foods.

Gut health and food allergies | Image source:  https://foodrevolution.org

Gut health and food allergies | Image source: https://foodrevolution.org

It is believed, alteration of the gut microbiota, a lack of early childhood microbe exposure, intestinal barrier dysfunction and suppression of the development of a person’s immune system could make people more susceptible to allergies.

Alteration of your gut flora can be caused by a number of factors including:  

  • Antibiotic use in early life

  • Formula feeding

  • Being over hygienic

  • High refined and sugar diets

  • A lack of connection with nature 

Studies have found, children with egg and milk allergies have a decreased number of lactobacilli bacteria and an increased number of Staphylococcus.

It has also been found infants who have low levels of paracasei rhamnosu Bifidobacterium in their first two months had a higher predisposition of developing sensitivities to cow’s milk and egg whites.

As particular bacterial species are required to help break down proteins found in gluten, those who lack these species may have a greater risk of developing gluten intolerance. And an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines (also known as SIBO) is one of the more common causes of FODMAP intolerance.

Probiotics, gut health and food allergies in children

Probiotics are beneficial bacterial strains found in foods or supplements. They can help reinoculate the gut with ‘good guys’ and help increase bacterial diversity. Probiotics can also help reduce intestinal permeability (otherwise known as leaky gut) and inflammation, as well as, modulate the immune system.

In infants who have a predisposition to food allergies, prenatal probiotic supplementation with Bifidobacterium bifidum, B. lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains has been found to be beneficial in reducing the risk of allergy development.

Supplementation of Lactobacillus and/or Lactobacillus GG in infants who have a suspected cow’s milk allergy has resulted in an improved tolerance to milk.

There is growing evidence to support probiotic supplementation in treating food intolerances and sensitives including non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, FODMAP and histamine intolerance. But this is just one factor in working to improve gut health and food allergies.

Probiotics are just one piece of the puzzle

Emerging research like the above is positive news for with a child with food allergies or a familial predisposition. But, it’s important to understand probiotics are just one piece of the puzzle for gut health and food allergies.

Firstly, taking a probiotic is giving your gut a boost of beneficial bacteria of one particular strain or group of strains. Your child’s diet needs to contain a variety of prebiotic foods to feed the bacterial strains you’ve added otherwise they simply won’t survive.

Secondly, the condition of your child’s gut is an important component of their overall health and ability to increase their tolerance to particular foods. If your child has leaky gut, there will be an excess of toxins and allergens absorbed into the blood stream, as well as a loss of nutrients. This is only going to heighten the allergenic state. While probiotics have been found to help heal intestinal permeability, it’s not going to the magic pill. A process of repair is going to be required for long term benefit.

Thirdly, without removing aggravating factors from the diet and lifestyle, your child is continually going to struggle with their gut health. Eating a highly refined and high sugar diet, for example, increases intestinal permeability and leads to inflammation. It also is the kind of diet pathogenic bacteria thrive on, further contributing to the gut flora disruption. Consuming foods that your child is allergic too, will also cause inflammation and exacerbate the leaky gut picture. 

There are a number of steps needed to heal a child’s gut and restoring it to a flourishing ecosystem. A treatment will need to be individualised depending on the issue but there is a general treatment for healing.

Remove aggravating factors and foods that are damaging to the gut;

  • Eradicate any parasites, if present;

  • Replace diet with gut healing and nourishing foods;

  • Repair and correct nutrient deficiencies:

  • Rebalance and reinoculate gut flora:

  • Cultivate the gut flora

I like to think of the gut as a garden. You need to remove factors that are degrading the soil or inhibiting plant growth. You need to weed and enrich the soil with compost and water so it becomes fertile before planting with seeds. To grow into healthy plants, you’ll need to feed with a fertiliser, sunshine and water.

Just like a garden, you need to spend time and a range of factors to nourish your gut in order to achieve optimal health.  


References 

Berni Canani, R., Gilbert, J. A., & Nagler, C. R. (2015). The role of the commensal microbiota in the regulation of tolerance to dietary allergens. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 15, (3), 243–249. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACI.0000000000000157

Berni Canani, R., Sangwan, N., Stefka, A. T., Nocerino, R., Paparo, L., Aitoro, R., … Nagler, C. R. (2016). Lactobacillus rhamnosus ‘GG-supplemented formula expands butyrate-producing bacterial strains in food allergic infants’. The ISME Journal,10, (3), 742–50. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2015.151

Björkstén, B., Naaber, P., Sepp, E., & Mikelsaar, M. (2000). The intestinal microflora in allergic Estonian and Swedish 2-year-old children.

‘Clinical and Experimental Allergy : Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology’, 29, (3), 342–6. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10202341

Caminero, A., Meisel, M., Jabri, B., Verdu, E. F. (2019). Mechanisms by which gut microorganisms influence food sensitivities.

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Galland, J. (n.d.). ‘The allergy solution : unlock the surprising, hidden truth about why you are sick and how to get well’. Kalliomäki, M., Salminen, S., Arvilommi, H., Kero, P., Koskinen, P.,;

Isolauri, E. (2001). Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial.  The Lancet, 357, (9262), 1076–1079. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04259-8<br>Sjögren, Y. M., Jenmalm, M. C., Böttcher, M. F., Björkstén, B.,; 

Sverremark-Ekström, E. (2009). Altered early infant gut microbiota in children developing allergy up to 5 years of age. ‘Clinical &amp; Experimental Allergy’, 39, (4), 518–526. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.03156.x

Stefka, A. T., Feehley, T., Tripathi, P., Qiu, J., McCoy, K., Mazmanian, S. K., … Nagler, C. R. (2014). Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (36), 13145–13150. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1412008111