Prebiotics to prevent wheat allergy?

The composition of the intestinal microbiota plays a crucial role in preserving human health.  Any changes affecting it might lead to the development of diseases, including allergies.  Prebiotics – which are supposed to act on the microbiota – may therefore contribute to its re-equilibration. This emergent preventive strategy has been explored in the context of a thesis project on wheat allergy.

Epithélium colique et  FLORE INTESTINALE . © ROCHET Violaine
Updated on 02/08/2013
Published on 12/19/2012

In France, wheat ranks 8th among childhood allergies and 12th in adults

Food allergies, notably in infants and young children, appear to be associated with an imbalance of the intestinal microbiota. This observation is driving the development of therapeutic and/or preventive strategies designed to modify the intestinal microbiota in allergic individuals, thanks to the use of dietary supplements.
An emergent preventive strategy: the use of prebiotics
Prebiotics are defined as non-digestible food ingredients which exert a beneficial effect on the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of a limited number of the bacterial species already present in the colon; in this way, they are able to improve the health of the host. Although the best known are fructans (inulin and its derivatives, fructo-oligosaccharides or FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides; GOS), a multitude of substances are considered to be potential prebiotics: xylo-oligosaccharides (XOS), soy oligosaccharides (SOS) and digestion-resistant starch, etc...
A thesis project was carried out in the INRA Biopolymers, Interactions and Assemblies Research Unit to examine the feasibility of using prebiotics to act preventively against the onset of allergies. More specifically, the aim was to use a mouse model to determine whether prebiotics could modify the intestinal microbiota, act on the intestinal barrier, drive the immune system in newborns and exert a preventive effect against the onset of wheat allergy.
An exploratory study in model mice sensitised with wheat allergens
A mixture of two prebiotics (90% GOS + 10% inulin), identified as a good candidate for allergy prevention, was used during this study. This mixture had the advantage of having already been used in some commercially-available preparations for infants. The scientists sought to characterise the effect of this prebiotic mix, administered during the perinatal period, in terms of preventing sensitisation-induced allergy.
To achieve this, a mouse model of allergy to deamidated gluten had previously been developed.
Encouraging results
This preliminary study showed for the first time that perinatal exposure to prebiotics (a GOS/inulin mixture at a ratio of 9:1) exerted a notable health effect on the body: modulation of the microbiota, reinforcement of the intestinal barrier and orientation of the immune system towards tolerance pathways.The perinatal – rather than postnatal or post-weaning – administration of prebiotics seemed to be able to beneficially modify the microbiota.  It will of course be necessary to verify this hypothesis, but if it is confirmed, a preventive strategy might then consist in initiating the intake of prebiotics during pregnancy, pursuing them during breastfeeding and also after weaning.
These findings now need to be confirmed in other animal models and in a cohort of mothers and infants displaying an allergic terrain. Such a study is now being envisaged within the research unit, with the support of a network of clinicians and researchers throughout the Pays de la Loire region (REAL2 project).

Scientific contact(s):

  • Marie Bodinier (+33(0)2 40 67 50 35) UR BIA - Biopolymères, Interactions, Assemblages