Testing probiotics in allergic children
The study included 240 children, 6 to 12 years old, with allergies to mold or dust. The children all suffered from rhinitis, which presents as the familiar runny nose, itchy nose, and nasal congestion. Some children also had itchy, red, watery eyes, and some had mild asthma symptoms like cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Participants were divided into two groups: one received a probiotic supplement with 2 billion colony-forming units of Lactobacillus salivarius once daily for 12 weeks, and the other group received placebo. Their symptoms and use of allergy medications were monitored weekly by parents and at regular check-in visits during the study.
Probiotics seem to reduce allergy symptoms
Symptoms and medication use were similar in the probiotic and placebo groups at the beginning of the study, but over the course of the trial, several differences developed:
- By week 8, rhinitis and eye symptoms were much lower in the probiotic group than in the placebo group.
- This difference in symptoms was even more significant by week 12.
- Probiotic-treated children were using fewer medications by the end of the study.
"We found a marked reduction of the allergy symptom scores during treatment with Lactobacillus salivarius," said study coauthor Dr. Rong-Hwa Jan from the Institute of Medical Science at Tzu Chi University in Taiwan. "The dramatic improvement in symptoms along with the decreased use of medications suggest that Lactobacillus salivarius may be an important treatment tool for allergic rhinitis in children."
How do intestinal bacteria help allergies?
Although no one knows for sure why probiotics have anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory effects, some laboratory studies suggest that the presence of healthy intestinal bacteria may increase levels of chemicals that are responsible for keeping the immune system in check. A properly controlled immune system is less likely to be triggered by particles in the environment like dust, pollen, and animal dander.
Keeping children allergy-free
Here are some ways to help reduce the risk of allergies and asthma in your children:
- Nurse them for one year. Breast milk helps babies develop healthy intestinal bacteria and can reduce their risks of allergies and asthma later in life.
- Avoid antibiotics as much as possible. Antibiotics can disrupt colonies of normal bacteria that populate the intestines. Studies have found that antibiotic use early in life is linked to a higher risk of allergies and asthma as children grow.
- Expose them to animals. Even if you can't have pets because of your own allergies, having your children spend time around animals on a regular basis can help prevent dander allergies.
- Consider probiotics. Based on this study, probiotic supplements could be a good idea for children with allergies. In addition, cultured foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir provide strains of similar lactic acid-producing bacteria that might help keep the immune system in check.
(Indian Pediatr 2012;pii: S097475591100603-1)