French medical researchers have demonstrated that prebiotics can reduce the risk of allergy to wheat. The improved immune system tolerances created by the prebiotics may be responsible for those reduced risks.

Scientists at France’s INSERM research institute have conducted research into probiotics, the commonly-used supplements often recommended for those with immune system or gastrointestinal problems. Now they turn to prebiotics with the idea that they could be of help in slowing down or stopping food allergy increases.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are soluble fibers such as cellulose, lactose and inulin, that stimulate bacterial growth in the intestine. They are fermented ingredients that pass through the stomach and small intestine. Because the composition of gut flora plays a critical role in immunity and allergic reaction, it’s hypothesized that bolstering them may reduce allergies.

“Lifestyle modifications have profoundly transformed our relationship with microbes — pasteurized food, emphasis on hygiene, highly protected children — with the result that our microbiota, i.e., all the bacteria which colonize our body (our intestines, skin, etc.) has greatly changed,” explained Antoine Magnan, researcher at Inserm and co-author of this research.

The theory of ‘clean food.’

The theory that much of our food is “too clean” to promote healthy gut flora is not new and is the driving force behind the probiotic supplement movement. The idea behind the Inserm study was to learn whether improving gut flora with prebiotics would correct some of the immune system problems that lead to severe allergic reactions.

After giving daily prebiotic supplements to gestating mice and then for a period after birth, during the suckling phase, the scientists found that their instances of severe food allergies were significantly lower than they were in control groups.

The scientists are working towards a next phase of research involving prebiotics and humans, which will launch next year.

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