The effects of probiotics on our gut microbiota and ezcema

Can probiotics provided to mothers improve the health of their children?

Professor Ed Mitchell
University of Auckland

What is the problem?

The increasing prevalence of allergic diseases is of significant health concern due to their substantial morbidity and healthcare burden. The allergies usually occur as a result of the body’s immune reaction to seemingly harmless substances present in our environments, either through inhalation, ingestion or insect bites. One such condition is the skin condition eczema.

Recent years have highlighted the importance of our gut microbiome, the trillions of bacterial cells occupying our body. It is thought that they outnumber our own cells 10 to one, indicating why there is an increasing focus on what role they play in the different functions of the human body and pathology of diseases and conditions.

There are also preliminary data that the composition of our microbiome is alterable in many ways, beginning with the way a child is born, vaginally or by caesar, as well as via the supplementation probiotics (healthy bacteria).


What is this research hoping to achieve?

Professor Ed Mitchell and colleagues recently showed in a randomised controlled trial that the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, when given to mothers and babies (from birth to two years) led to a significant reduction in eczema of 50% at ages two, four and six.

While a stark result, the exact mechanism behind this significant reduction is not yet known, meaning the team now seek to determine whether Lactobacillus rhamnosus dramatically alters gut composition and/or function at different stages of life.

To do this they’re merging the ever-emergent discipline of genetic sequencing with that of human microbiome composition. Using stored faecal samples of the children involved in the trial mentioned above, the team will use genomic sequencing to analyse a number of participants’ samples, whom of which have data at all time points (zero, three months, one, two, four and six years). The samples are diverse in ethnicity, gender, breastfeeding levels as well as other factors.

Impact of this research will be to increase current knowledge of how early probiotic feeding may alter gut microbiota composition and function with relevance not only to eczema but a range of other disease states in later life in which gut microbiota is implicated.