A peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies a person can have, but researchers have identified some bacteria that could one day block the condition in humans.

Currently, researchers at the University of Chicago are looking into evidence that the bacteria could block a peanut allergy in mice. If they can develop a pill form of the bacteria, it could be used to treat allergies in humans.

The bacteria, Clostridia, induces immune responses that prevent food allergens from entering the bloodstream.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that peanut allergies, which previously had no treatment or cure, might be prevented by these induced immune responses.

In recent years, allergies have increased rapidly in children. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of peanut allergies in U.S. children more than tripled. Now, people estimate that in every classroom, there are two children with potentially life-threatening allergic responses to certain foods. Some people point to contemporary hygienic and dietary practices as possible culprits. Others point out that antibiotics and antimicrobials are correlated with increased allergies.

"Environmental stimuli such as antibiotic overuse, high fat diets, caesarean birth, removal of common pathogens and even formula feeding have affected the microbiota with which we've co-evolved," said Cathryn Nagler, senior author of the study. "Our results suggest this could contribute to increasing susceptibility to food allergies."

To get these results, the researchers first looked at how gut bacteria specifically affects food allergies. They took germ-free mice that were born and raised in sterile conditions and mice treated with antibiotics as newborns that had reduced number of gut bacteria and exposed them to peanut allergens. They displayed a strong immunological allergic reaction to the allergens compared to normal mice.

The researchers found that by introducing Clostridia to the mice, food allergen sensitization was solved.

This finding, as well as other findings, proves again how important gut microbes are within the body, especially for digestion and immune system function.

"We have co-evolved with our microbiota for millennia," Nagler said. "It seems that a consequence of some of our 21st-century lifestyle habits has been the disruption of our relationship with the communities of commensal (friendly) bacteria that reside on our skin and mucosal surfaces, particularly in the gut." 

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