The news: If you or someone you know is one of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, we have some great news for you. Researchers at New York University Medical Center have not only figured out why people are allergic to certain foods, they have also come up with a way to potentially treat or even extinguish food allergies.
The team found that young children overexposed to antibiotics were at greater risk of developing food allergies. Thankfully, though, they also discovered a way to combat the impact of antibiotics, which, theoretically, could potentially cure people of their food allergies.
The research: The study, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a strong link between food allergies and early childhood use of antibiotics. Researchers were able to identify a naturally occurring bacteria in the human gut that keeps people from developing food allergies. But it turns out that the beneficial gut bacteria diminished with frequent antibiotic use at a young age — making children more susceptible to food allergies later in life.
The researchers tested their hypothesis by feeding antibiotics to young mice and discovered that they were more likely to develop peanut sensitivity than the control group.
The solution: After being fed a healthy dose of antibiotics, the mice were introduced to a solution containing Clostridia — the positive bacteria that naturally occurs in mammalian guts — and lo and behold, the mice's sensitivity went away. They were no longer allergic.
The research "opens up new territory" and "extends the frontier of how the microbiome is involved" in immune responses, Martin Blaser, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at NYU, told Science.
What does this mean? Food allergies have been on the rise in recent decades, having increased by 50% just between 1997 and 2011. If, as this new research suggests, modern society's dependence on antibiotics is the chief reason for this increase, we should be thankful for the study's potential breakthrough.
Image Credit: CDC
Notably, the new research offers a promising way to use probiotic treatment as an allergy therapy. While it might be years for such a treatment to hit the market, this research certainly looks like it's on the right track to make that happen.