The atopic diseases of childhood—Eczema, asthma and rhinitis (nasal allergies)—are increasingly more common, especially in developed countries like the US. One of the main explanations for this increase is known as the Hygiene Hypothesis (I’ve mentioned it before.) The Hygiene Hypothesis states that children who grow up in ultra-clean environments lack the immune-building contact with everyday microbes. This lack of microbial interaction results in underdeveloped immune systems that lead to immune dysfunction.
Eczema, asthma and rhinitis all involve immune dysfunction. If an infant has one of these conditions, she is more likely to develop another one later in life. For example, many children with Eczema during infancy go on to develop asthma in later childhood. Further, if a parent has an atopic disease then the child is more likely to also be affected by an atopic disease.
A recent study found that a combination of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and prebiotics (soluble fibers that feed probiotics) reduced asthma-like symptoms in infants with Eczema. In this study, 90 infants under 7 months of age received infant formula either with the synbiotic (pre- and probiotic) or just infant formula for 12 weeks. One year later, the infants in the group receiving the pre- and probiotics had a 20 to 28 percent lower risk of asthma symptoms.
Researchers are still trying to determine just how this works, but it is known that gut microbial balance works to “educate” the immune system, over 70 percent of which resides in the gut. A proper gut microbial balance plays a big role in early immune development. Truly, optimal gut health is the foundation of total body health.