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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A new study suggests that major childhood allergies may have a link to the makeup of someone’s gut bacteria. Moreover, researchers in Canada believe antibiotics could be exacerbating this problem.

A team from the University of British Columbia says that the composition of an infant’s gut microbiota can help predict — and potentially prevent — conditions like hay fever. The study examined 1,115 children from birth to age five, with over half of them developing at least one type of allergy.

“Hundreds of millions of children worldwide suffer from allergies,” says Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, in a university release. “It’s important to understand why this is happening and how it can be prevented.”

The research is unique in exploring the origins of four distinct allergies simultaneously. The team was particularly interested in how these allergies might be related to the composition of infant gut microbiota.

“These are technically different diagnoses, each with their own list of symptoms, so most researchers tend to study them individually,” says Dr. Charisse Petersen, co-senior author of the study. “But when you look at what is going wrong at a cellular level, they actually have a lot in common.”

A Girl Wiping Her Nose with Tissue
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

To carry out the research, scientists evaluated the children’s gut microbiomes through stool samples collected at clinical visits when the children were three months and 12 months-old. Of the children studied, 523 showed no signs of allergies, while 592 were diagnosed with one or more allergic disorders.

Researchers note factors like diet, birth method, geographical location, and exposure to antibiotics can all influence the infant’s gut microbiota.

“There are a lot of potential insights from this robust analysis. From these data we can see that factors such as antibiotic usage in the first year of life are more likely to result in later allergic disorders, while breastfeeding for the first six months is protective,” adds Dr. Turvey. “This was universal to all the allergic disorders we studied. Developing therapies that change these interactions during infancy may therefore prevent the development of all sorts of allergic diseases in childhood, which often last a lifetime.”

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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