If you have been an allergy sufferer for a long time, you know that the intensity of seasonal allergies varies from year to year. And sometimes the things that worked last year to ease your symptoms - itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, stuffy head - won't work this year.
While allergy medications can help, they also have potential unwanted side effects, including dry mouth and drowsiness.
But now, some scientists say, there may be an alternative: probiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for your digestive system. Although we tend to think of bacteria as something that causes disease, our bodies contain many bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are generally called "good" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.
Probiotics have gained popularity in recent years and are sometimes recommended by doctors, especially pediatricians, to counteract a course of antibiotics, which can kill good bacteria with bad, causing an upset stomach and diarrhea in the process. Probiotics can help fight those gastrointestinal problems.
The two most common types of probiotics are called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, such as kefir. It can help with diarrhea and can even help with lactose intolerance. Bifidobacterium can also be found in some dairy products and can be helpful for patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Probiotics can also be taken as a supplement; You may have heard of brands like Culturelle, Florastor, and Align.
Early research looks promising
During allergy season, allergy sufferers may be encouraged to hear that probiotics can help them too. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that probiotics can help alleviate some of the discomfort. The researchers studied 173 participants with seasonal allergies. One group received a placebo and the other a combination of lactobacilli and bifidobacteri (sold as a supplement called Kyo-Dophilus). It should be noted that this study did not include severe allergy sufferers, but the combination of probiotics showed clinical benefit for those with milder symptoms.
Although the researchers in this study admit that they do not know exactly how probiotics relieve allergy symptoms, a 2015 study in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology may shed some light on the issue.
In that study, researchers compiled data from 23 studies and found that people with seasonal allergies who took probiotic supplements or ate foods containing probiotics showed improvement in their allergy symptoms compared to allergy people who took a placebo. The researchers theorized that probiotics changed the balance of bacteria in the intestines, which in turn protected the immune system and prevented outbreaks of allergies.
"When looking at all the studies combined, there was a statistically significant improvement in both the rhinitis-specific quality of life of those patients and their nasal-specific quality of life," lead author Justin Turner, MD, Ph.D., professor. ENT assistant at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, he said in a news release, but cautioned that "the jury is still out" and more studies are needed.
Original article (in English)