Purpose of review
Disturbed gut colonization patterns are proposed to be associated with the development of allergic disease.
Studies using new systems biology methods confirm previous findings that early environmental exposures, for example cesarean delivery, are associated with disturbed gut colonization patterns and reduced microbial diversity. Low microbial diversity in infancy is also observed to precede onset of allergic disease. In a large population-based cohort study, probiotic consumption in pregnancy was associated with reduced risk of eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis in the child, but not asthma. The association between probiotics and rhinoconjunctivitis appeared stronger if both mother and child (from 6 months) consumed probiotics. Follow-up data from primary prevention studies with probiotics do not support a role for probiotics in asthma prevention. In meta-analyses, both prebiotics (high-risk infants only) and probiotics modestly reduce the eczema risk, but no other allergic manifestations. Their use is not generally recommended for prevention, or treatment, of allergic disease.
Gut microbial patterns are associated with susceptibility to allergic disease, but the incomplete understanding of what constitutes a healthy gut microbiota that promotes tolerance, remains a challenge. Further understanding of gut microbial functions may pave the way for more effective allergy prevention and treatment strategies.