Yoghurt helps fight allergies

Thinking they are doing the right thing, parents forbid their children to touch dirty objects and carry toys in their mouths. This is actually a mistake. “There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the occurrence of allergies,” explains Dr Guy Delespesse, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Université de Montréal and Director of the Allergy Research Laboratory, located at Notre-Dame hospital in the CHUM. In fact, the more time a child spends in sterilized conditions, the higher its risk of developing an allergy during its lifetime.”

The mechanisms that govern our immune system are better and better understood. In short, the lymphocytes, the sentries of our immune system, recognize foreign substances. When an intruder is detected, these lymphocytes produce antibodies whose mission it is to neutralize the foreign agent. However, in allergic patients, the immune system is out of control. “The patient develops an immune response to a component of his environment,” the allergist points out. “However, the response is abnormal. In fact, the component to which the patient immunizes himself is absolutely harmless to the human body.”

Why does the immune system turn against the body, which it is supposed to defend? There are signs that the intestinal flora is one cause. “There is not much research in this field,” observes Dr Delespesse. “The role of the bacteria in our intestines is to educate our immune system. They teach it how to react when confronted with foreign substances.”

Ideally, the bacterial flora that line the intestine should be varied and rich. Recent studies have demonstrated that administering probiotics to newborns or to future mothers in the last third of their pregnancy may reduce the impact of allergies during the first two years of the child’s life by 50%. And where are these probiotics found? “They’ve been used for centuries to make yoghurt,” the researcher answers.

There is currently only one yoghurt whose merits have been scientifically proven. But don't look for it at the corner store: it is only found in Europe. “If the exploratory studies are confirmed, all physicians will recommend that future mothers eat yoghurt and give some to their infants. A market worth several billion dollars will open up to dairy companies,” remarks the researcher, who serves as scientific consultant to one of these companies. The merits of probiotics appear to be a lot less obvious in adults. “Training our immune system is like a child's education,” adds Dr Delespesse. “The longer you wait to learn to read, the harder it will be. Similarly, to be effective, the bacterial flora must educate the immune system as early as possible.”

Researcher: Guy Delespesse
Telephone: (514) 890-8000, extension 25395


Also in this issue:

Archives | Communiqués | Pour nous joindre | Calendrier des événements
Université de Montréal, Direction des communications et du recrutement