Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gut bacteria help control inflammation

This past week researchers published a paper [media summary] that helps clarify the connection between gut bacteria and the type of system-wide allergic inflammation responsible for asthma and, often, eczema.

David Artis and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania (the team includes members from Japan and Germany) find that killing off gut bacteria in mice, using antibiotics, results in much higher levels of IgE antibodies and increased populations of basophils, a type of white blood cell involved in allergic inflammation.

Trillions of commensal bacteria live in our intestines, along with other types of less-numerous microbes. Decreases in numbers or diversity of these bacteria are associated, in children, with increased risk of developing allergic disease. Commensal microbes help us digest our food. They are integrated into other processes as well, including the immune system. They have to be. They need to suppress immune reactions that would otherwise destroy them.

Artis and colleagues pointed out that high IgE levels are associated with increased basophil populations in human patients with "hyperimmunoglobulinemia E syndrome," who are at high risk of developing eczema.

The researchers weren't able to specify which species of bacteria are most important in regulating IgE and basophils, but they did show that chemical signals from commensal bacteria normally limit the number of basophils that develop from the bone marrow.

This research supports the idea that overuse of antibiotics in children makes them more likely to develop atopic disease. Far in the future, this work could result in anti-inflammatory therapies based on the chemical signals that gut bacteria use to suppress basophils.


  1. Hi,

    Great blog, thanks for writing about this important subject! The more information out there, the better for all us eczema sufferers.

    I have had *very* good results with reestablishing a healthy gut flora with probiotics, by eating home made, unpasteurized yoghurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. I make it myself, so that I know it's not pasteurized, in which case most of the good bacteria are gone. I have seen big improvements: the skin behind my knees and my fingers, which used to be red, dry and itchy is pretty much healed now.

    I would say I am 90-95% healed now, and hardly itch or scratch any longer.

    I heard about the GAPS theory developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride on Dr. Mercola's web site, where he posted an article about it. That many ailments, like eczema, depression, autism, ADD, ADHD and Schizophrenia are based on the condition of our digestive system: whether or not there are plenty of probiotics, or if the balance is messed up by a bad diet, too much antibiotica, and so on. I was given a lot of antibiotics when I was younger, so it makes sense to me that my gut flora was messed up.

  2. I'm certainly a fan of all the foods you mention. I wouldn't go as far as Mercola does, but I can believe that establishing a benign gut flora puts a brake on allergy and inflammation. More funky pickles please!

  3. With the caveat that pickled foods, depending on their age and manufacture, contain varying amounts of histamine, which stimulates itch in the short term. You just have to try stuff and see what works for you.