Over the last few years, study of the microbiome and its effect on everything from digestive health to mood has skyrocketed. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Stanford University indicates the microbiome may also play a role in food allergies (J Clin Invest. 2021;131:e141935).
Like the microbiome, food allergies have been a topic of much discussion over the last decade or so—and for good reason. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), 32 million Americans—nearly 11% of adults and 8% of children—suffer from food allergies. Those allergies stem from nearly 200 different foods, with shellfish, peanuts and milk leading the way. That number is also increasing; FARE reported childhood allergy prevalence rose 50% from 1999 to 2011.
The study authors also saw that increase, stating, in part, “There has been a striking generational increase in the prevalence of food allergies. We have proposed that this increase can be explained, in part, by alterations in the commensal microbiome.”
For the study, researchers compared fecal samples from 34 individuals making up 17 pairs of twins; 12 pairs of twins included one individual with food allergies and one without, while five pairs included two allergic twins. For each pair, researchers “compared the relative abundance of operational taxonomic units (OTUs), which represent groups of microbes between closely related individuals.” After comparing samples between allergic and healthy twin pairs, researchers “identified 64 OTUs differentially abundant between the two groups, with 62 OTUs higher in healthy and two OTUs higher in allergic twins,” noting the healthy twin OTUs “were largely taxa from the Clostridia class.”
The research led the authors to conclude: “Twin pairs exhibited significant differences in their fecal microbiomes and metabolomes through adulthood, suggesting that the gut microbiota may play a protective role in patients with food allergies beyond the infant stage.”
Importantly, the researchers also made note of specific microbes associated with healthy (that is, non-allergic) twins. “An integrated microbial-metabolomic analysis identified a significant association between healthy twins and Phascolarctobacterium faecium and Ruminococcus bromii,” the authors wrote. Such a conclusion—with further testing—could ultimately lead to the development of live microbiome-modulating biotherapeutics.
Research into both the microbiome and food allergies should continue to play a pivotal role in food and beverage developments. “Our data demonstrate that the gut microbiota may play a protective role in patients with food allergies beyond the infant stage and through adulthood,” the study authors wrote. “Our findings warrant further studies in larger populations to uncover the mechanism(s) underlying microbiota-mediated modulation of systemic effects in food allergy and to provide insight into new interventions to treat and prevent food allergy.”