Study links good gut health to lower risk of food allergies

Hope could be on the horizon for those suffering from food allergies - which equates to one to two per cent of adults, or around two million people, in the UK. They can cause everything from itching and an upset stomach to a life-threatening reaction, and are different from food intolerances which only affect the digestive system and therefore cause less serious (but albeit still very annoying) symptoms.

But back to the new study, which has indicated that the gut could hold the key to preventing - and even reversing - some food allergies, including peanuts. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that the presence of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome may help sufferers.

Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images
Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images

The scientists are convinced there is a link between gut bacteria and food allergies, and that if the former falls out of balance - triggering 'dysbiosis' - then it could cause the latter as levels of particular microbes decline. They believe the microbe in question is Clostridia, which is also thought to play a part on inflammatory bowel disease.

Researchers think they know the connection - Clostridia produces a metabolite called butyrate. As well as being important for promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, this compound also helps protect the integrity of the walls lining the gut to prevent food from leaking out and possibly causing an allergic reaction.

The trouble is that, thus far, scientists haven't worked out how to boost levels of Clostridia in the gut through oral or fecal supplements. So the researchers at the University of Chicago have - after much digestion - had the brainwave to bring butyrate to the gut directly. As they revealed in a presentation to the American Chemical Association at the weekend that this has so far worked well in treating food allergies in mice.

Photo credit: Angela Kotsell - Getty Images
Photo credit: Angela Kotsell - Getty Images

Which all sounds mega promising for humans, right? Unfortunately, while the mice didn't seem to mind too much, butyrate doesn't currently make the most appetizing of possible future supplements. '[It] has a very bad smell, like dog poop and rancid butter, and it also tastes bad, so people wouldn’t want to swallow it,' acknowledged first study author Dr Shijie Cao.

In order to make it into a product that people will want to ingest, the researchers are now investigating how to best mask the flavour and smell. They hope that one day a person with a food allergy of any kind will be able to open a packet containing a new-and-improved butyrate mix to drink with water or juice. Much like those other supplements or probiotic drinks already on the market promising to give your digestive system some TLC.

Food allergies aside, looking after your gut health is super vital. It bolsters everything from your immune system to your mood, and helps you absorb key nutrients so your body is properly fuelled. Here are some of the best probiotics to invest in, and - as always - eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet is key.

Watch this space...

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