More evidence of gut bacteria’s influence over food allergies

A Victorian research collaboration between Barwon Health, Deakin University and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has linked the presence of the Prevotella copri bacteria in a mother’s gut during pregnancy with allergic disease protection in her baby. Consistent with the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, the study also found an association between larger household size and the presence of Prevotella bacteria in the gut.

Prevotella bacteria are found in the gut of virtually all people from traditional communities, but only in a minority of people living in developed countries. In media reports accompanying publication of the latest research, lead investigator Professor Peter Vuillermin points to antibiotics, unbalanced nutrition and over-cleanliness as reasons why this species of bacteria may be missing from the gut of those living in westernised societies.

Bacteria like Prevotella are known to break down dietary fibre to produce short-chain fatty acids. These produce molecules that can cross the placenta and stimulate the baby’s developing immune system. While more research is needed to understand the link between Prevotella and decreased allergy, it may be that an intervention such as a Prevotella supplement for women during pre-conception and pregnancy could lead to reduced food allergy prevalence.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Barwon Infant Study has followed more than 1,000 participants from birth to their primary school years.

Reference: Vuillermin et al. 2020 Vol. 11, 1452. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-14552-1

The Open Access paper is available in the Nature Communications journal.

The media release from Deakin University is available here.