Exposing Children to “Good” Bacteria Could Help Prevent Asthma


Janani Ravikumar
Staff Writer

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia discovered that “good” bacteria may play an important role in preventing asthma and allergies, which has increased dramatically in children over the past several years.

“A common factor in all studies so far has been the microbiota,” said B. Brett Finlay, the study’s co-lead researcher, in an interview with BBC. “In fact, making sure that babies have the right bugs, at the right time, might be the best step towards preventing asthma and allergies.”

Asthma is a common condition in which the airways narrow and swell to produce extra mucus. Airways that are more susceptible to irritation and inflammation can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma triggers include airborne allergens, respiratory infections, cold air, physical activity, stress and certain medications.

Children who are exposed to bacteria and allergens within their first year of life are less likely to develop asthma and allergies. Exposure to such bacteria and allergens will train infants’ immune systems to attack harmful bugs, while ignoring things like pollen and pet dander. Something as simple as exposing infants to a variety of foods can help reduce the risk of food allergies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines the hygiene hypothesis as the suggestion that the critical post-natal period of immune response is compromised by the developed world’s excessively clean household environments. These too-clean environments fail to provide exposure to the necessary germs so that the immune system can adequately defend itself. In terms of asthma, these deficient defense responses can easily lead to its characteristic irritation and inflammation of airways.

At three months of age, children who lack four key bacteria, Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella and Rothia, are at higher risk of developing asthma, according to Science Alert. These bacteria can be naturally acquired by children through exposure in their home surroundings, but some infants are less exposed and therefore more likely to develop asthma.

A study conducted by the University of British Columbia consisted of 319 children who participated in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study. The results indicated that three-month-old infants at high risk of developing asthma had lower counts of FVLR bacteria than children who did not show signs of developing the condition. This was determined by allergy tests to see if the children demonstrated wheezing.

“This research supports the hygiene hypothesis that we’re making our environment too clean,” said B. Brett Finlay, the study’s co-lead researcher, in an interview with Science Alert. “It shows that gut bacteria play a role in asthma, but it is early in life when the baby’s immune system is being established.”

This study raises the possibility that we could one day alter childrens’ buildup of protective bugs through probiotics, according to ABC. Potentially, bacteria can even be used as therapy for lung disease. Still, more research needs to be conducted in order to further prove “good” bacteria’s role in developing immune systems.