UBC study says asthma caused by overly clean environments

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A breakthrough study from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital says asthma is preventable in infants if they acquire four types of gut bacteria by the age of three months.

Up to 20 per cent of children in the West have asthma and rates have risen dramatically since the 1950s. Treating infants with antibiotics early in life might be one of that factors that contributed to the rise.

UBC professor B. Brett Finlay, who was co-leader of the study, says this supports the theory that we keep our environments too clean.

“It shows that gut bacteria play a role in asthma, but it is early in life when the baby’s immune system is being established,” Finlay said in a release.

The discovery opens the door to start treating infants with probiotics to prevent asthma and to research which babies are most at risk for getting asthma.

Most babies attain the four types of gastrointestinal bacteria – nicknamed FLVR (Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella, Rothia) from their environments, but occasionally they don’t due to birth circumstances and other factors.

More than 300 children participated in the study. Their gut bacteria was analyzed in samples of their feces and revealed lower levels of FLVR in asthmatic infants.

The researchers confirmed their theory with tests on mice. When inoculated with FLVR, newborn mice had less severe asthma symptoms.

“This discovery gives us new potential ways to prevent this disease that is life-threatening for many children. It shows there’s a short, maybe 100-day window for giving babies therapeutic interventions to protect against asthma,” said Dr. Stuart Turvey, co-lead author of the study and professor of Pediatric Immunology at UBC.

The research was done through the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study and was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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