Nearly 1 in 3 adults and kids have allergies, making allergies a top-10 leading chronic disease in the U.S.
Another approximate 1 in 10 kids also have asthma, and millions more people suffer from immune intolerances and sensitivities that go undetected for years.
Similar to catching colds and flus, 80% of your immune system is produced and located in your gut—making gut health the primary trigger or protector when it comes to allergies, asthma and sensitivities and intolerances.
The Difference in Allergies vs. Intolerances
- What is the difference in an allergy vs. intolerance?!
“Allergy” is defined as an immune response to a food or environmental trigger that occurs reproducibly upon exposure, and causes an immediate IgE-mediated immune response, along with adverse health effects(wheezing, sneezing, eyes watering, throat closing, itching, skin breakouts, sinus infection, hives, etc.). For instance, you go to a friend’s house who happens to have a cat and you immediately begin sneezing and getting watery eyes, or you eat a peanut and your throat closes up.
“Intolerances” or “sensitivities” are also immune reactions, but they are delayed immune reactions that can occur in response to certain foods and environmental triggers.
Food Sensitivity 101
Food and environmental intolerances or sensitivities are much more difficult to pinpoint and often go silently undetected for days, months or years, since side effects are typically less specific.
Sensitivity symptoms may include things like: bloating or gas, acne, constipation, dry skin, low energy or fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, reflux, headaches, joint pain and brain fog, among others. For example, say you’ve been experiencing migraine headaches and bloating for the past several years. You eat scrambled eggs, bacon, and orange juice every morning for breakfast, and you think, “Hmm… maybe something in my breakfast is bothering me.”
So on Wednesday, you decide not to have the scrambled eggs to see if you get the migraines and bloating. Later on in the day, your headache and bloating are still there, so the next day you decide to try opting for a smoothie instead. However, your symptoms once more return. In the case of a food intolerance, it could still be that the eggs from two days prior are still causing your migraines and tummy issues, and it’s taken this long for the sensitivity symptoms to appear.
Both allergies and intolerances significantly decrease quality of life and take a toll on physical and often mental health, with many people living in fear or hyperawareness of their foods, environment and symptoms.
The good news? Emphasizing and strengthening the immune system through the gut can have a tremendous impact on allergy and sensitivity symptoms and outcomes.
The Gut-Allergy Connection
Antibiotic use is linked to allergies & asthma
For instance, research shows children who receive antibiotics in the first year of life have higher rates of asthma—upwards of 20-percent (1). What do antibiotics have to do with anything? Antibiotics have been well documented to eradicate gut bacteria—particularly healthy gut bacteria. Beyond the first year of life, antibiotics still play a critical role in immune system strength. Another study of 65,000 American children showed that more than 69 percent received antibiotics by the age of 2, and that those children averaged 11 courses of antibiotics by the age of 5—pointing to the continued rise in childhood chronic disease associated, including allergies and asthma (2).
People with allergies and asthma have less bacteria in their gut
Low gut bacteria diversity can lead to increased allergy susceptibility, according to a study (3) of 1,879 adults released by the National Institutes of Health. This study found that a lack of diversity in the gut microbiota was associated with all types of allergies, with the strongest relationship seen in people who suffered from seasonal and/or nut allergies. They had reduced Clostridiales and increased Bacteroidales bacteria colonies in their gut microbiota.
Another large scale study (4) in 3,500 children found that those with allergies and ashthma were less likely to have four bacteria residing in their gut: Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia. Other research has shown that skin allergies and sensitivities may be linked to decreased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) which leads to bacterial translocation within the lymph system. When researchers performed a fecal (poo) transplant in mice, inoculating them with unhealthy gut bacteria, they found enhanced skin sensitivities in all test subjects (5).
Food quality affects allergies
The human digestive system is not designed to digest many of the staples in the modern diet (i.e. McDonald’s, Starbucks, granola bars, Goldfish snack crackers, etc.) As technology and agriculture has evolved, so as our microbiota—but not for the better, consequently sparking food allergies and intolerances galore. Our ancestors were not consuming McDonald’, and since our bacteria eat what we eat, altering their food source has changed them (seemingly for worse).
One study of infants suspected of having cow’s milk allergy, found that those who were fed formula with the cow’s milk and supplemented with the probiotic Lactobacillus GG, were better able to tolerate the milk than those who were given the formula alone (6). Further evaluation of the microbiota in the babies’ stool, found the bacteria in the healthy and the allergic children were dramatically different. To test the theory that the healthy bugs were giving kids a big immune boost, the team took one more step, this time in two groups of germ-free mice. One group of mice was given the feces from the allergic kids, and the other received feces from the non-allergic kids before being exposed to milk protein. Final findings revealed that the mice with the bacteria from healthy infants were perfectly healthy, but the mice that received the bacteria from the allergic infants die of anaphylaxis.
How to Kick Allergies without Allergy Shots or Flonase
Four words: Improve your gut health.
- Ahmadizar, F. 2017. Early life antibiotic use and the risk of asthma and asthma exacerbations in children. Pediatr Allergy Immunology. (5):430-437. doi: 10.1111/pai.12725.
- Bailey LC, Forrest CB, Zhang P, Richards TM, Livshits A, DeRusso PA. Association of Antibiotics in Infancy With Early Childhood Obesity. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(11):1063– doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.1539
- Hua, Xing & Goedert, James & Pu, Angela & Yu, Guoqin & Shi, Jianxin. (2015). Allergy Associations with the Adult Fecal Microbiota: analysis of the American Gut Project. EBioMedicine. 3. 10.1016/j.ebiom.2015.11.038.
- Arrieta, M.C. etal. 2015. Early infancy microbial and metabolic alterations affect risk of childhood asthma. Science translational medicine 7(307):307ra152-307ra152. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aab2271
- Emilie Plantamura, Amiran Dzutsev, Mathias Chamaillard, Sophia Djebali, Lyvia Moudombi, Lilia Boucinha, Morgan Grau, Claire Macari, David Bauché, Oana Dumitrescu, Jean-Philippe Rasigade, Saskia Lippens, Michelina Plateroti, Elsa Kress, Annabelle Cesaro, Clovis Bondu, Ulrike Rothermel, Mathias Heikenwälder, Gerard Lina, Azzak Bentaher-Belaaouaj, Julien C. Marie, Christophe Caux, Giorgio Trinchieri, Jacqueline Marvel, Marie-Cecile Michallet. MAVS deficiency induces gut dysbiotic microbiota conferring a proallergic phenotype. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201722372 DOI: 1073/pnas.1722372115
- Berni Canani, R., Gilbert, J. A., & Nagler, C. R. (2015). The role of the commensal microbiota in the regulation of tolerance to dietary allergens. Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology, 15(3), 243-9.