Common Origin Behind Major Childhood Allergies
A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital has unveiled a potential shared origin for several major childhood allergies. These findings, published in Nature Communications, highlight the role of gut microbiome features and early life influences in the development of common allergies in children, including eczema, asthma, food allergies, and hay fever. The implications of this research extend to predicting and possibly preventing allergies in children, addressing a growing health concern.
Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UBC and an investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, explained the significance of the study. “We’re seeing more and more children and families seeking help at the emergency department due to allergies. Hundreds of millions of children worldwide suffer from allergies, including one in three children in Canada, and it’s important to understand why this is happening and how it can be prevented.”
A Shared Breakdown in Gut Health
This study is among the first to investigate four distinct school-aged pediatric allergies simultaneously. While these allergies manifest with different symptoms, researchers hypothesized a common link in the gut microbiota composition of infants.
Dr. Charisse Petersen, co-senior author of the study, explained,
These are technically different diagnoses, each with their own list of symptoms, so most researchers tend to study them individually. But when you look at what is going wrong at a cellular level, they actually have a lot in common.”
The research analyzed clinical assessments of 1,115 children tracked from birth to age five. The results indicated that a bacterial signature found in stool samples of children who later developed any of the four allergies was associated with dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut microbiota. This imbalance likely compromised the intestinal lining and led to an increased inflammatory response in the gut.
Courtney Hoskinson, a PhD candidate at UBC and the first author of the study, explained, “Typically, our bodies tolerate the millions of bacteria living in our guts because they do so many good things for our health. We found a common breakdown in these mechanisms in babies prior to the development of allergies.”
The infant gut microbiota is influenced by various factors, including diet, birth methods, geographic location, and antibiotic use. The study revealed that antibiotic usage during the first year of life was more likely to result in later allergic disorders, while breastfeeding for the first six months acted protectively across all allergic disorders studied.
The research has far-reaching implications, with the potential to inform treatments aimed at correcting an imbalanced gut microbiota and preventing allergies in children. Dr. Turvey noted, “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 study was conducted as part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Cohort Study, which has tracked children’s health, growth, and environments from birth and made significant discoveries about asthma and allergy development. Funding for this research came from various sources, including Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Provincial Health Services Authority. The CHILD Cohort Study received initial funding from the Allergy, Genes, and Environment Network of Centres of Excellence (AllerGen NCE) and CIHR.