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    Preventing Allergies: Bifidobacterium Infantis

    April 29, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Something I began studying shortly after I realized my children had severe food allergies was prevention. Even though we have a cure now, I am still studying prevention. After all, being healthy is the goal, and being healthy from the very start used to be usual, normal even. Now, my pediatrician looks shocked when I tell her that I don’t know if my younger pair have drug allergies because they have never been exposed to a drug.

    Why is this shocking? Why is it becoming normative to have babies less than a year old on drugs of one kind or another?

    But I digress.

    This is not a formal series. I am not about to go on one of my information-seeking missions again. But, from time to time, when I discover something that I think is key to allergy prevention, I’ll publish it here.

    My latest discovery, introduced to me by a friend in a recipe for homemade whole food baby formula, is a good gut bacteria called bifidobacterium infantis. B. infantis is a bacteria which, ideally, dominates the gut in humans from birth to around age seven. Now, it is always in our digestive tract, but the infantis is there because it is super plentiful in young children.

    If you aren’t familiar with human digestion {which is a key to true health, by the way}, this might get a bit confusing. The idea is that babies are born with an intestinal tract which is completely sterile. Within the first days, weeks, and months of life, that tract becomes colonized. In healthy babies, the bowels are colonized by good bacteria, which not only aids in healthy, thorough digestion, but also prevents overgrowth of bad bacteria which can cause digestive disturbances, among other things.

    The baby’s first exposure to B. infantis is in the birth canal during birth. {This was strike one for me, as my babies were all born by C-section.} The baby’s extended exposure is in mother’s milk when nursing {This was strike two, as my milk supply is very low and my babies have all gotten the majority of their nutrition from formula.} And, as we can see, the babies are getting this bacteria from their mother, who may or may not have healthy intestinal flora herself.

    If Mommy has been struggling with digestive problems, has been on repeated antibiotics, or has candida overgrowth, there is a chance she doesn’t have a sufficient supply of B. infantis for her children. B. infantis, it turns out, is critical for allergy prevention:

    In 2004, scientists took a further step and demonstrated that B. infantis is the critical factor in allergic response. They examined babies in Ghana, where the incidence of allergies is low, and compared them to babies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, where the incidence of allergies is more than twice as much. The missing link was shown to be B. infantis, found only in the Ghana infants. When compared with the other species of Bifidobacterium, the protective properties of B. infantis smoothed the allergic response of the immune system. {source}

    I am guessing that my own children are very low in this essential bacteria. And I’m guessing that lots of babies {and mommies} are also.

    So I did some thinking, and here are a few unusual steps that can be taken to help combat allergies in our children:

    • Mommy must build her own intestinal flora up before giving birth. Pregnancy is a critical time for our babies. Most babies are born naturally, and so Mom can start them off right from birth. There are many companies making probiotics, but Natren is a trusted brand. A lot of small health-food stores carry this brand and keep them properly stored.

      If I were expecting a baby, I would take probiotics during the last trimester especially. I would also continue to take them during the early months of breastfeeding.

    • Expose the baby orally to B. infantis. Obviously, if you have the natural delivery and full breastfeeding and you are confident in your own flora supply, you have no worries. But for those of us who are less confident, for whatever reason, Natren has a product for babies called Life Start that can help. {I am in no way affiliated with Natren, by the way.} This product is a powder that can be mixed into bottles. If you are nursing, you might want to pump an occasional bottle if you have cause for concern in this area. If you are doing formula, you might want to consider putting it in every bottle.
    • Expose older children to B. infantis. If the theory on B. infantis is correct, then I have cause to worry that my children could continually redevelop their allergies. I am buying a supply tomorrow and I plan to slip some into everyone’s milk in the coming weeks. I know for sure that they were all underexposed to this healthy bacteria as infants, so this will be my attempt to make up for that.

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Joy August 25, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Brandy, I’m curious to know if your children’s allergies were cured or at least lessened in severity? I’m going to look through your blog for an update

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 29, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      We have figured out other ways to deal with allergies, but I don’t think that the B. infantis really worked for us. I’ve done a lot of research on it since, and I have mixed thoughts. I think that, possibly, I didn’t do it long enough or in high enough doses. But also, it might be that it is best introduced before six months of age if we really want it to colonize the gut. Our children no longer have food allergies (we do have one that cannot digest gluten, but it’s not an actual allergy), but I don’t think that this particular thing played a major role in that.

  • Reply David Meyers March 19, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Excellent article. I operate a site about Bifidobacterium Infantis (www.bifidobacteriuminfantis.com), and too few people are aware of all of the factors that influence transmission/uptake of the bacteria.

    In fact, my interest in it began after traveling, when I was given a course of preventative antibiotics that wiped out my digestive bacteria and wreaked havoc on my health for two weeks.

  • Reply Matt Metzgar March 24, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    So… what happened with your children’s allergies? I found the same study too about infantis. I am wondering if it worked for you in practice.

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