Can Probiotics Treat Allergies?

Probiotics could be one way to assuage the symptoms of seasonal or chronic allergies, says Justin Turner, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University:

“When you look at all the studies combined, there was a statistically significant improvement in both the rhinitis-specific quality of life of those patients and in their nasal specific quality of life.”

However, the jury is still out on the question.

Probiotics are microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. The term probiotic is currently used to name ingested microorganisms associated with beneficial effects to humans and other animals. Introduction of the concept is generally attributed to Nobel Prize recipient Élie Metchnikoff, who in 1907 suggested:

“the dependence of the intestinal microbes on the food makes it possible to adopt measures to modify the flora in our bodies and to replace the harmful microbes by useful microbes”

Benefits of Probiotics

A new study in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, is, according to lead author Turner,

“a systematic review where basically we just searched the medical literature for all studies that have evaluated treatment of allergic rhinitis with probiotics.

There was a lot of variability in the individual studies, but a majority of the studies did show at least some benefit with the use of probiotics compared to placebo.”

Among the 23 studies that were reviewed, 17 showed that probiotics were associated with improvement in at least one aspect of a patient’s health, either rhinitis-specific quality of life or in symptoms. In all, 1,919 patients were involved.

“That means that six (studies) did not show any benefit at all, so it’s hard to make any firm conclusions about that,” Turner says. “We also found that the studies were very variable, so they used a lot of different bacterial strains and treatment durations.”

Allergic rhinitis is a common disease that affects between 10 and 30 percent of the general population.

But probiotics are not a viable substitute for current medications used to treat symptoms, Turner cautions, adding the topic is ripe for future study.

Zajac AE, Adams AS, Turner JH.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis.
Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2015; DOI: 10.1002/alr.21492