Recently, Canadian researchers published the first study looking at how certain microbes, found in the gut, might affect asthma. The scientists are hopeful these findings may one day help develop a test — and perhaps lead to new therapies to treat the condition.
The study, released in Science Translational Medicine, showed infants who acquired four types of “good” gut bacteria in the first three months of life, were less likely to develop asthma.
Researchers at The University of British Columbia (UBC) and BC Children’s Hospital looked at stool samples from more than 300 babies to learn about bacteria living in the infants’ intestines. Then, focusing on 22 infants with the highest asthma risk, they noticed a trend. At three months old, these children appeared to be missing four kinds of bacteria found in healthier kids: Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia. The research team nicknamed the microbes FLVR.
Scientists then tested FLVR in mice with asthma, injecting them with the bacteria. Mice who received FLVR showed less lung inflammation and improved symptoms.
Dr. Pooja Varshney, pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, says the study is exciting and supports a recurring trend in food and allergy research known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” as well as a growing body of literature illustrating the important effects of a healthy microbiome.
“The hygiene hypothesis is the theory that our environment being ‘too clean’ results in the immune system being ‘bored’ and then attacking harmless substances such as pollen and foods, resulting in diseases such as asthma and food allergy,” Varshney said.
“In this study, a reduction in ‘good bacteria’ in the gut was associated with an increased asthma risk. We know that the development of a healthy immune system is dependent on the presence good bacteria in the gut, and this study reinforces this fact.”
She cautions the study is early and more research is needed to apply the findings, but Varshney says it does give some insight on preventing and possibly reducing the incidence of asthma.
“More and more we’re learning things like vaginal delivery, breastfeeding, and minimizing the use of antibiotics when possible can have a far reaching effect on our health,” she said.
According to Varshney asthma cases have skyrocketed in the U.S., affecting nearly one in 10 children.
Varshney recommends visiting a pediatrician or asthma specialist if parents notice the following symptoms in their children:
- Frequent coughing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing symptoms that interfere with sleep or exercise