When it comes to food allergies, trust your gut

gut health

There is increasing public awareness about the importance of gut health, but did you know it’s linked to allergies?

Researchers at the University of New South Wales are urging people to look after their gut to avoid developing allergies.

“Generally, if you have good gut health, then typically your chances of developing allergies are lower compared to someone with poor gut health,” says Associate Professor Alice Lee. 

“We now know that the epithelial cell, the single cell layer that forms the lining of both the small and large intestine of our gut, looks very different in people with food allergies compared to those without and this can be attributed to the microbiome and how those cells process food proteins.” 

In Australia, according to Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia, food allergies are estimated to affect 1-2 per cent of adults and 4-8 per cent of children under five years of age. Recent Australian data indicates that 10 per cent of children aged under one year have a proven food allergy.

Assoc. Prof. Lee says that while genetics do play a role in your likelihood of developing allergies, environmental factors also dictate how the immune system develops.  

“The gut microbiomes found in people with allergies is less diverse than people without allergies,” she says. 

Can you outgrow allergies?

There is still some hope for young kids living with an allergy. 

About 80 per cent of babies allergic to egg and milk grow out of it by the age of four. This is a stark contrast to children with nut allergies where only 20 per cent grow out of it and the remaining 80 per cent of people carry it into adulthood. 

Fish and shellfish allergies are most common in adulthood. Other less common but still major food allergies in Australia include sesame, soy and wheat. Peanut, tree nut, sesame and seafood allergies are usually lifelong.

“Science hasn’t yet taught us how to speed up the process of growing out of an allergy. The best treatment option we currently have is allergen-specific immunotherapy, which has shown promising results,” says Assoc. Prof. Lee. 

“Currently, at least 60 per cent of patients who have gone through immunotherapy successfully develop desensitisation and can consume their allergens in much higher doses after the therapy. However, we’re continually striving to improve the efficacy and safety of the treatment.” 

So what can you do?

Well, it’s probably too late now but, according to one study, you should be born into a large family with pets. Apparently, the exposure to different microbes in early childhood support gut health and improve the chances of not developing a food allergy.

I think we can confidently assume we are all past that, but other ways to improve your gut can include incorporating probiotic supplements.

“These days, there are supplements or health-conscious drinks such as probiotic or kombucha promising to correct problems in our gut. This is only one small piece of a large pie,” Assoc. Prof. Lee says. 

“We know that your gut microbiome changes when you have an allergy and restoring the gut microbiome could help the body respond better to the therapy, but there are other parts to this puzzle. 

“There is current research looking at the efficacy of combining immunotherapy with both probiotic and prebiotic supplements, and initial analysis of the data has shown positive results. 

“However, there’s still a way to go before we know the exact dosage of those supplements and in which combinations [they] are needed to have that impact and how they work in the body.

“In the allergy prevention and treatment space, it’s the billion-dollar question.”

Simple steps

However, for some simple steps to improving your gut health, VicHealth recommends eating food high in fibre, avoiding stress, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

It also recommends avoiding ‘fad’ cures. 

“Try not to get sucked into everything you see across Instagram and Facebook,” it stated.

“From colon cleanses to manuka honey remedies, nothing beats a varied wholefood diet.”

“Prioritising gut health shouldn’t cost the earth and be wary of anyone selling expensive supplements that promise to instantly fix your gut.”

Do you know anyone who has outgrown their allergies? Why not let us know about your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Green tea helps serious gut problem

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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