Good bacteria may prevent — and reverse — food allergies

Trust your gut.

Key digestive system bacteria are linked to infants developing and being cured of food allergies, according to new research from Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, found that infants missing vital microbes from their gut bacteria were more vulnerable.

“The loss of these bacteria acts as a switch that makes children susceptible to food allergy,” says study author Talal Chatila, director of Boston Children’s Food Allergy Program.

Researchers tested human gut bacteria and experimented on mice for the study. The team transplanted fecal bacteria from babies with food allergies and from those without allergies into the mice.

“The fecal bacteria from food-allergic subjects did not protect against food allergy, whereas the bacteria from control subjects did,” Chatila says, explaining how non-allergic babies’ “good” bacteria treated allergic reactions in the rodents.

Based on the scientists’ findings, Chatila believes the loss of protective gut bacteria is critical to understanding allergies — and taking preventative measures.

“We now have a fundamental concept of how food allergy happens,” Chatlia says, adding that he hopes the research will result in a medicine, if not a cure. “If the race continues with the same intensity, or accelerates, I think you’ll see a product on the market within five years.”

A new drug that is designed to lessen the life-threatening effects of severe peanut allergies could become available as soon as this year. The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the number of Americans with food allergies, with nearly 8% of US children — about two in every classroom — experiencing food allergies, researchers say.

One 2019 study, however, found that many people are incorrectly self-diagnosing themselves as having food allergies.

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