GEELONG, Australia — New research suggests that a healthy gut filled with a diverse range of bacteria may reduce the risk of developing asthma and food allergies in children. The study sheds light on the importance of gut health in the early years of life and could have implications for future prevention strategies for childhood respiratory and food-related allergic diseases.
The scientists examined stool samples from babies at various stages— one month, six months, and a year old. They also asked parents at the one-year and four-year marks about whether their children had developed wheezing related to allergies or asthma during the previous year. Additionally, they performed skin-prick tests on the children to check for allergic reactions to foods and airborne allergens like dust or rye grass.
“Our studies on the Barwon Infant Study showed that a more mature infant gut microbiota at one year of age was associated with a lower chance of developing food allergies and asthma in childhood,” says Dr. Yuan Gao, a research fellow at Deakin University, in a statement. “This appeared to be driven by the overall composition of the gut microbiota rather than specific bacteria.”
To gauge the maturity of the gut’s bacterial community—known as microbiota—the researchers used a mathematical measure called the ‘microbiota-by-age z-score’ (MAZs). A higher MAZ score at age 1 was linked to a reduced risk of wheezing caused by allergies at both 1 and 4 years old. “In other words, the more mature the gut microbiota, the less likely were the children to have allergy-related wheeze,” adds Dr. Gao.
Microbiota are essential for various bodily functions, including vitamin synthesis and immune system support. They can also be detrimental, however, contributing to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and stomach ulcers. The diversity and maturity of these microbiota generally increase as children grow and are exposed to various environments and foods.
Looking ahead, the scientists plan to recruit 2,000 children for a clinical trial to examine whether a mixture of dead bacteria can boost immunity and protect against wheezing or asthma.
The study adds to growing evidence that maintaining a healthy gut could be crucial in preventing a range of ailments, including those that affect breathing and cause allergic reactions in children. Probiotic supplements for children could be another way to ensure kids are improving their gut health, especially if their diet isn’t the best.
The research was presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy.
South West News Service writer Ashley Pemberton contributed to this report.