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36 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT

115 Technology Drive
Trumbull, CT

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On our skin and in our gut is a hidden world teeming with microscopic life. These areas and many other areas of our bodies host hundreds of different types of bacteria and fungi. This collection of microscopic life is referred to as the microbiome or flora. For many years, it was thought these germs were silent passengers living harmoniously with us without a purpose. New evidence suggests however the specific types and proportion of bacteria and fungi living in the gut are vitally important for normal development of the immune system, correct function and maturation. The right bugs in the gut have a role in preventing the development of allergies. There is a continuing conversation between the gut flora and the immune system. Gut microbes produce a variety of chemical substances that tell the immune system if the microbe is friend or foe. The first evidence that gut flora could influence the development of allergies came from studies showing a higher incidence of allergies in children born by Caesarean section, fed formula and those receiving antibiotics. It was initially found that C-section babies have a gut flora that resembles the microbes living on their mothers skin. These bacteria entered the child’s gut from the mother’s skin or upon being handled by parents or caregivers. Children born by the usual route, have a gut flora that resembles the birth canal in the first months of life. This finding supports the idea that the usual variety of microbes provide protection from developing food allergies. After the first year of life the gut flora become similar in both groups so the effect occurs when the immune system is still relatively immature. How a change in the gut flora can lead to allergies is not clear, but there are several theories. One type of bacteria, clostridia, stimulates the immune system to produce a chemical that prevents food allergens being absorbed through the gut. The absence of clostridia and other microbes causes the gut to be leaky. Consequently, allergy causing food proteins cross the gut and are allowed to interact with the immune system, triggering allergic sensitization. Mice born and raised in germ-free environments or given antibiotics after birth have no bacteria living in their gut. Germ-free mice, kept in a sterile environment have a higher incidence  of food allergythan wild mice, suggesting the protective effect of the normal gut flora. Another study has shown that fatty substances produced by fungi living in the gut produce fatty chemicals called lipids with anti-allergy effects. These lipids normally block the allergic reactions to foods. In their absence, the brakes are removed, allowing the immune system to react to harmless substances, potentially promoting food allergy. The day may soon come when physicians will be giving probiotics at birth to encourage the growth of the normal flora and decrease the epidemic of food and environmental allergies.