Probiotics and Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergy symptoms occur when the body’s immune system sees some harmless pollen protein as a foreign invader and decides to go to DEFCON 1. These are typically from tiny, airborne types of pollen and not from insect pollinated plants. Trees, grasses, and weeds are some of the common culprits. Immune cells in our bodies get primed for certain pollen and then trigger mast cells to release histamine, which leads to the inflammation and congestion.
Congestion, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and lots of clear, runny mucus. Anywhere from 10-30% of the population is dealing with allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”) each spring and looking for anything that can help ease being so stuffed up. Medications can sometimes help but can also leave some people too drowsy or too stimulated depending on which they take.
Probiotics have shown promise in modulating the immune response of seasonal allergy sufferers. Studies support that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics improve the quality of life of people with allergic rhinitis. How our immune system reacts is in large part related to the diversity of the bacteria in our guts. Ingesting probiotics and eating a wide variety of fresh foods can over time help us to increase that diversity and support more balanced immune reactions.
Just last month, a large systematic review and meta-analysis of probiotics for seasonal allergies came out. It covered 28 studies with people ages 2-65. Probiotics were used from 6 weeks to 6 months and included ones from the Lactobacillus group (eg. L. rhamnosus, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. acidophilus) and the Bifidobacterium group (B. bifidum, B. longum, and B. infantis). Overall, the meta-analysis found that probiotics had a significant effect in supporting immune health to modulate the responses to seasonal allergies. Compared with placebo, probiotic use resulted in less congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes for example.
The symbiotic relationship we have with our gut microbiome, including specific probiotics, is truly amazing and research is continuing to uncover what sort of systemic, cascading effects and benefits they have beyond our digestive tract. If you’re interested in the synergy between healthy food choices and your gut microbiome, check out our other blog post from earlier this year about the relationship between prebiotics and probiotics here.