By Dr. Andrew Cummins
Spring is around the corner and with it comes itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. This is usually blamed on grasses, pollen, and trees to name a few. If you have read any of my previous articles you are well aware that I like to ask the question why. Why do certain individuals display these symptoms when coming in contact with these certain “allergens”?
It is true that our immune system is reacting to the grass, trees, and pollen. Again, we need to ask the question why. Why is our immune system reacting? The answer: Because our gut microbiome is out of balance. Simply put, this means there is an imbalance in the bacteria in our gut. Again, the question is why? The foods we eat are definitely a big factor. With every bite you take you are either feeding good bacteria or bad bacteria. Toxins and prescription medications are two other major factors that cause an imbalance in our gut bacteria.
If the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria this throws the immune system out of balance. The picture below depicts an immune system that is in balance and an immune system that is out of balance. Allergies usually are a problem when the part of our immune system called Th2 T cells are dominant. These immune cells secrete chemicals that react to trees, pollen, grasses, and sometimes certain foods.
The picture below depicts how early life exposures form our gut microbiome/bacteria and how this forms the development of our immune system. Three major factors that effect the gut microbiome/gut bacteria are 1. C-sections (because the baby misses out on the mothers gut flora in the vaginal canal), 2. Formula feeding as opposed to breast feeding, and 3. The use of antibiotics which wipes out the good bacteria. This combination sets the stage for an imbalance in the gut bacteria, damage to the gut lining, and an immune system that is completely out of balance and will react to not only certain foods, but to pollen, grasses, and trees as well.
So if an individual has or has not been through all three of the factors listed above and still experiences “allergies” what can be done? The good news is that it is not too late to start feeding the good bacteria in your gut no matter what age you are. Most vegetables, especially fermented vegetables are great for feeding the good bacteria in your gut. Stocks and broths from beef bones and whole chickens are great for repairing and healing the gut lining. Both of which will dramatically effect the functioning of the immune system and help bring it into balance. Secretory IgA is one of our first lines of defense on our gut lining and a deficiency in secretory IgA can also greatly effect the immune system making it overreact leading the symptoms of allergies.
Supplements such as probiotics, curcumin, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and colostrum which increases levels of secretory IgA can be very helpful for bringing the immune system into balance. Especially when lab testing shows the need for more good bacteria, high levels of inflammation, low levels of vitamin D, and markers that indicate a leaky gut. A damaged gut lining will allow foods, bacterial products, and toxins to disrupt the immune system and allowing it to overreact.
The reason I run a functional stool analysis for almost every one of my patients is because it shows us levels of good bacteria and the need for probiotics, levels of secretory IgA and the need to increase secretory IgA, levels of inflammation and the need for natural anti-inflammatory nutrients and botanicals, and signs of a leaky gut and the need for repair with demulcent botanicals. It is amazing what dramatic beneficial changes take place when you focus on your gut. One of those beneficial changes is a reduction or complete cessation of “allergies”.
Below is research talking about the benefits of human breast milk and the comparison between breast milk and formula in the development of the immune system.
Human breast milk contains many bioactive compounds including antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents, enzymes, hormones, and growth factors that affect the development and maturation of the gut. Some of these bioactive compounds are cytokines, lactoferrin, glycoconjugates, oligosaccharides, white blood cells, and immunoglobulins. These same compounds also have a profound impact on the development, maturation, and modulation of the infant’s immune system.
One of the main aspects of the immune system that is greatly affected is naïve T – cells and the development of the different subsets into being Th1, Th2, or T-regulatory dominate. The components of breast milk guide the developing infant’s immune system towards a balance of Th1/Th2 and modulate it to be T – regulatory dominate. T – regulatory cells are known to modulate the immune system and to protect against autoimmunity. These cells have been shown to be down regulated in autoimmunity and also in the presence of pathogenic bacteria. (Clinical and Developmental Immunology 2012)
The greatest amount of research and the reasons of why breast milk is so beneficial and can be preventative of celiac disease, type 1 diabetes mellitus, allergy, asthma, atopic dermatitis, and other autoimmune disease is the profound impact breast milk has on the intestinal microbiota. Studies have shown that the intestinal bacteria between formula fed infants and infants breast-fed vary greatly.
The GI tract of infants given formula are colonized by a more diverse range of bacterial species including Streptococcus, Bacteroides, and Bifidobacterium, as to where the GI tract of breast-fed infants is colonized mainly by Bifidobacterium species. Bifidobacterium represented up to 90% of the total fecal microbiota of breast-fed infants. The human oligosaccharides in breast milk seemed to have the greatest impact in shaping the composition of the microbiota and the growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria in the infants gut. In turn, it has been found that the greatest influence of the development of the immune system and maturation of the infant’s gut has to do specifically with the environment of the microbiota and whether or not beneficial bacterial strains predominate.
The discussion of which foods should be introduced when has to begin with the foundation of which bacterial strains are colonizing the infant’s GI tract. In the article, Immune Development and the Intestinal Microbiota in Celiac Disease, it was found that infants with a genetic predisposition towards celiac disease had increased numbers of Staphylococcus spp. colonizing the gut. When these infants were breast-fed, Bifidobacterium spp. became the predominant bacteria in the GI tract.
The study discussed that even though infants with HLA DQ genotypes with a predisposition towards developing celiac disease had a higher risk of developing autoimmunity, the microbiota of the gut was the most important determining factor. It was also shown that the bacterial colonization of the GI tract not only shaped the maturation and development of the gut and T – cell populations, but also which kind of cytokines were predominant. The GI tracts of infants breast-fed and colonized mainly with Bifidobacterium spp. had the anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-10 and TGF-Beta as the predominant type. In contrast, GI tracts inhabited by pathogenic spp. of bacteria produce the inflammatory cytokines IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha. Which of these cytokines are predominant in the gut and systemic circulation is a major determinant of the reaction the body has to the gluten peptide gliadin, and whether or not systemic autoimmunity takes place. (Clinical and Developmental Immunology, 2012)
Adler K, Mueller DB, Achenbach P, Krause S, Heninger AK, Ziegler AG, Bonifacio E. Insulin autoantibodies with high affinity to the bovine milk protein alpha casein. Clin Exp Immunol. 2011 Apr;164(1):42-9.
Brekke HK, Ludvigsson JF, van Odijk J, Ludvigsson J. Breastfeeding and introduction of solid foods in Swedish infants: the All Babies in Southeast Sweden study. Br J Nutr. 2005 Sep;94(3):377-82.
Cameron SL, Heath AL, Taylor RW. How feasible is Baby-led Weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence. Nutrients. 2012 Nov 2;4(11):1575-609.
Pozo-Rubio T, Olivares M, Nova E, De Palma G, Mujico JR, Ferrer MD, Marcos A, Sanz Y. Immune development and intestinal microbiota in celiac disease. Clin Dev Immunol. 2012;2012:654143.
Silano M, Agostoni C, Guandalini S. Effect of the timing of gluten introduction on the development of celiac disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2010 Apr 28;16(16):1939-42.
*To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cummins call (203) 916-4600.