Updated: Mar 27
Everyone will experience an allergic reaction at some point in their lives. It is therefore important to understand the causes of allergies and, if possible, how to protect ourselves from them. Our body is home to billions of bacterial cells and among them are both useful and harmful bacteria. These cells are also referred to as microflora or microbiota and it has a major role in the maintenance and function of our immune system. And since an allergic reaction is the immune system's response to an allergen, we must maintain a healthy gut microflora.
What is the relationship between the immune system and the gut microflora?
The intestines are responsible for a person's natural immunity. About 70% of the bacterial cells responsible for our immune system are found in the gastrointestinal tract and in particular in the intestines. Our digestive system contains the most immunocompetent cells that are responsible for the body's immunity. Therefore, any disturbance in the composition of the intestinal flora has a significant impact on the development of allergies, both in children and adults.
Beneficial bacteria in the gut, which are non-pathogenic, are recognized by the body as "its own" and do not cause an inflammatory response. The gut is the perfect home for these bacteria, so they compete with pathogenic or harmful organisms that invade our body. In short - the microflora that inhabits the inside of our intestines has a significant impact on our immunity. In optimal conditions, our immune system stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria and thus maintains the balance of the gut microflora. In turn, it produces molecular signals that help the development of immune cells.
What happens when gut microflora is disturbed?
Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the bacterial composition. This can cause a breakdown of the intestinal epithelial barrier, which is responsible for the symbiosis between the gut microflora, general immunity and the rest of the body. This would lead to increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. The consequences of this imbalance can manifest throughout the body, as it leads to inadequate signals to the immune system and a correspondingly inadequate immune response. This most often underlies acute chronic inflammation and allergies and can cause an immune response against one's own cells, leading to serious autoimmune disorders.
Modern lifestyles include high levels of stress, poor diet, intake of harmful substances such as alcohol and certain drugs, especially antibiotics, and lack of physical exercise. All this contributes to a serious dysbiosis. One of the best ways to deal with this is through lifestyle changes as well as taking probiotics. They are particularly important in older people, as the gut microbiota declines in parallel with the aging process.
How does gut microflora affect the development of allergies?
When the gut microbiota has the right composition, there is a balance between two types of cells of the immune system - Th1 and Th2 lymphocytes. But when the intestinal ecosystem is disrupted, the activity of Th1 lymphocytes decreases, which in turn impairs the capture of food particles (food allergens) that enter the blood.
This leads to the production of a specific class of antibodies - general IgE antibodies. That is why, when an allergy is suspected, it is important to determine whether it is the cause of the immune system reaction or something else is. An initial IgE test can be done in a laboratory or at home with a rapid test to detect if there are elevated levels of IgE antibodies in the blood.
How do we improve our gut microflora?
Taking care of the gut microflora starts from birth. The first three years of our life are very important for strengthening the immune system. The bacteria that colonise the gut during the first months of our lives programme our immunity and affect children's health in the following years.
One of the most obvious ways to improve the state of our gut microbiota is to limit or eliminate the intake of harmful substances. Any antibiotic therapy leads to the disappearance of good bacteria in the digestive system, which takes up to six months to recover. During this time, we are exposed to numerous complications (vitamin deficiency) and infections. Use antibiotics only as a last resort when there is no other alternative and make sure you are taking appropriate probiotics in the meantime.
And most importantly, since we consume food every day - limit your consumption of processed foods, meat, dairy and sugar. So-called processed foods contain many preservatives and simple sugars. These types of products are also characterised by a high glycaemic index. Their consumption causes a greater release of insulin than with natural products. And the use of antibiotics, hormones and steroids in raising animals means that these substances enter our bodies with the consumption of meat and dairy products.
Developing allergies, even at a later age, is never out of the question and there is no sure way to protect yourself against it, but we can take steps to limit the risk. And if you suspect an allergy, you can do a quick home test to determine whether it's an allergic reaction or something else.