Helpful Gut Bacteria Seem to Reduce Allergic Disease in Kids

Stuart Turvey MBBS DPhil FRCPC
Canada Research Chair in Pediatric Precision Health
Aubrey J. Tingle Professor of Pediatric Immunology
Professor | The University of British Columbia

Did you know that in babies, the right combo of gut bacteria might stave off later allergies, so scientists are testing “cocktails” of helpful microbes as therapy?

In infancy the gut microbiomes of children who later develop allergies or asthma look different from those of children who don’t go on to have allergies. “Children who are at the highest risk are missing important health-promoting bacteria in that first year of life,” says Stuart Turvey, a pediatric immunologist at the University of British Columbia and British Columbia Children’s Hospital.

In a study of more than 1,100 children published in 2023, Turvey and his colleagues found that children who had these microbiome disruptions at age one were more likely to be diagnosed with eczema, food allergies, allergic rhinitis or asthma at age five. “Not every kid gets all four [diagnoses], but often the kids who had two or more had a more pronounced microbiome imbalance signature,” he says.

Another type of bacteria that has a positive effect on humans is Bifidobacterium infantis, which eats sugars in breast milk and is more abundant in some children who are breastfed. B. infantis was once common in people’s guts but is much less so now in Western countries. “Only 16 percent of Canadian kids have this, and rates are lower in the U.S.,” Turvey says. Among youngsters who had to have antibiotics in infancy, the presence of B. infantis protected them against developing asthma by age five, Turvey’s studies have shown.

Link to MARCH 1, 2024 Issue of Scientific American