By Dr. Scott Olson
There was an insult thrown around in ancient China that was aimed at doctors.
If you thought your doctor was bad, you would say that he is the type of doctor
who treats the eye when the eye is sick, and the foot when the foot is sick.
While to modern ears this sounds a little crazy (of course you treat the foot if the problem is with the foot), to the Chinese the disease that showed itself was only a sign of the underlying disease, not the disease itself. A good Chinese doctor, therefore, was interested in getting to the root of the problem, not just treating the symptoms.
Modern science has finally caught up with the ancient Chinese. New research studies have suggested that having allergies may have something to do with the health of your gut. While your gut may seem far away from what may be causing allergies, we should take a clue from the ancient Chinese and try to uncover the roots of the disease.
Improving your gut health takes many steps, but taking probiotics is a great way to start, and many scientific studies have recently been focusing on this.
What are Probiotics?
Your gut is full of bacteria. In fact, there are so many bacteria and they impact
our health so dramatically, that it should be called a gut-ecosystem.
A typical person carries over 1 trillion bacteria in their gut. In case you were counting, these bacteria outnumber the cells that make up your body. For every cell in your body, there are 10 bacteria living in your gut. If you were to weigh these bacteria, you would find that they weigh around three to five pounds.
As in any ecosystem, the bacteria in your gut exist in a balance; any disturbance in this balance can lead to problems. The balance that exists inside your gut is between what can be called the good bacteria and the bad bacteria. You need a balance of both good and bad bacteria in order to have a healthy gut and, as it turns out, a healthy immune system.
The probiotics are good bacteria that can be taken as a supplement, such as acidophilus, bifidus and others. We replace only the good bacteria because many things that we do, such as take antibiotics, eat processed or high sugar foods cause the bad bacteria to multiply. These probiotics play essential roles that not only fight off the bad bacteria, but also reduce inflammation in the gut.
The Immune/Probiotic Connection
Scientists are still not sure why taking probiotics helps reduce allergies,
but they have some theories.
It has long been established that children growing up in sterile city and suburban environments have a greater chance of getting allergies than kids who grow up on farms or in rural conditions. While this seems backwards (farm kids who are exposed to a wide variety of bacteria seem like they would have more allergies), the kids who grow up on farms have a far less occurrence of allergies.
Scientists guess that taking probiotics mimics the farm kids exposure to bacteria. Something about being exposed to many different bacteria seems to calm the immune system, and, therefore, reduces allergies. This observation is supported by research as it has been shown that kids who are more allergic have far more bad bacteria and less variety of good bacteria in their guts than do kids who are not allergic.
The Gut Barrier
The gut is the largest barrier between you and the outside world. Think about
it. You take in pieces of the outside world into your body when you eat. Your
body has to determine if the food is safe or not. Therefore anything that might
threaten the barrier is attacked by the immune system.
To provide some protection to the body, the gut creates a barrier called the mucosal barrier to help keep out the bad stuff. This barrier is built up of the cells of the gut, a mucous layer and the gut bacteria.
When allergens cross this barrier and enter the blood stream, it causes allergic reactions. What is amazing about the research is that taking probiotics has been shown to not only decrease allergic reactions in the gut, such as food allergies, but whole body allergic reactions also improve. Probiotics have been shown to reduce diseases such as eczema, hay fever and possibly even asthma.
Modern Life Tips the Balance
Having a high quantity and quality of gut bacteria is very important to your
general health and to ensure that your allergies are kept in check.
Remember, gut bacterial health is about balance. Balancing the good bacteria with the bad is what creates a healthy gut, and therefore reduces the allergy tendencies.
You dont have to worry about getting enough of the bad bacteria; modern life will take care of that for you. Stresses, antibiotics, and poor eating ensure that the bad bacteria are there in large numbers. You need to, however, ensure that you are getting enough of the good bacteria
Quality and Quantity Matters
When you are thinking about taking probiotics, both quality and quantity
Scientists agree that in order for probiotics to have an affect, there needs to be at least 1 billion active cultures in supplement you are taking, and more than that is even better.
You want to ensure a mixture of good bacteria, including L. acidophilus, L. rhamnasus, L. plantarum, B. longum, B. bifidum. These are the types of good bacteria that have been shown in research studies to benefit gut health.
Pay close attention to what kind of acidophilus you are taking. Only a few companies use the specific strain of acidophilus (called acidophilus DDS-1) that has been used in research studies and is important.
While it may be a stretch for a Western mind to grasp that allergies may have something to do with the health of the gut, modern research is supporting the idea. Because of this taking something as easy as a probiotic supplement can help reduce your allergic reactions.
- Ouwehand AC: Antiallergic effects of probiotics. J Nutr. 2007 Mar;137(3 Suppl 2):794S-7S.
- von der Weid T, et al: Novel probiotics for the management of allergic inflammation. Dig Liver Dis. 2002 Sep;34 Suppl 2:S25-8.
- Kalliomaki M, Salminen S, et al: Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001 Apr 7;357(9262):1076-9.