We know avoiding peanut butter while pregnant doesn’t make your baby any less likely to develop a peanut allergy. But it’s possible taking prebiotics could prevent food allergies.
A recent study showed that mice who were fed prebiotics had strengthened immune systems and a reduced risk of a wheat allergy. The team of scientists at France’s INSERM research institute previously investigated probiotics, and now believe prebiotics may be the key to one day putting an end to food allergies.
Wait, what is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics — other than one letter?
Prebiotics are soluble fibers, mainly sugars such as cellulose, lactose and insulin, which stimulate the growth of bacteria in the intestine. They are fermented ingredients which pass undigested through the stomach and small intestine.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.
Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. Both probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements.
We know “the composition and balance of gut flora” play a crucial role in immunity and controlling allergies, but it’s more than stomach health. One researcher said society’s “lifestyle modifications” like pasteurized foods, a heightened focus on hygiene, and keeping our children “highly protected” has really changed the way our bodies’ bacteria reacts to substances.
There’s been a steep increase in people with food allergies, and the researcher believes this is because our immune systems aren’t as good at tolerating “theoretically harmless food.” If we change our bacteria, we may be able to tolerate the foods.
So how did the experiment work? A group of pregnancy mice ingested daily prebiotic supplements and continued taking them while nursing their babies, while another group of mice did not take any prebiotics. Three weeks after weaning, all of the baby mice were exposed to potentially allergenic wheat proteins. The babies whose mothers had taken prebiotics had far fewer reactions.
The scientists are launching a clinical research hospital project with 500-1,000 pregnant women who risk passing on allergy to their unborn baby.