“Atopic” is the term used to describe a tendency towards allergy, asthma or just a general predisposition towards sensitivity of the immune system. And we are seeing much more of it in our children these days. But is it just heredity, or something more?
It is clear that our bodies have developed a commensal (mutually beneficial) relationship with the bacteria inside and around us. Certainly there are times when this relationship turns sour, but, in general, the list of benefits we received from our normal flora is quite long. On the flip side, destroying or not developing a healthy normal flora in the first place throws of the balance of our immune system and opens us up to an equally long list of chronic diseases. As examples:
- Babies born via C-section birth have different bacteria than their vaginal birth counterparts. This increases risk of asthma.
- Antibiotic use in children has been shown in multiple studies to increase the risk of asthma.
- More evidence linking antibiotic use and asthma.
- Just in case the above studies aren’t enough…
- Antibiotic use massively increases the likelihood that a child carries MRSA.
Other factors that have been shown to increase the risk of asthma in our children may actually begin in the womb:
- Tylenol use in infants and children increases the risk of asthma.
- Healthier fats (especially omega-3s) during pregnancy lowers the risk of asthma.
- Tylenol use in pregnancy increases the risk of asthma in the child.
This particular article offers additional insight into the mechanism by which a normal, healthy bacterial flora may protect against the development of atopy beyond the factors mentioned above.
H. pylori is a bacteria that was pegged in the mid 80’s as the major cause of stomach ulcers. Much like anything else in medicine, when we peg a disease on a single factor we like to respond with a single approach (in this case antibiotics). Regular readers of the Rantings will know that I consider H. pylori an opportunistic pathogen at worst, part of our healthy normal flora at best.
Prior research has shown that, when H. pylori is present early in the lifespan, it plays a strong role in balancing the immune system and keeping us healthy. On the contrary, when exposure comes later in life, H. pylori has the potential to disrupt the lining of the gut and potentially cause ulcers.
The bottom line is that, if you are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or have a young child, remember that antibiotics are to be avoided in all but life-threatening situations. And, if absolutely necessary, follow up with a good course of probiotics for at least 2 weeks afterward.