A Functional Approach to Food Allergies and Sensitivities - What to Expect From Your Tiny Health Gut Health Test

A baby sits in a high chair exploring new foods

Summary

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Dealing with food allergies or sensitivities can be incredibly challenging. While allergic reactions are often immediate and can be severe, symptoms of food sensitivities tend to be delayed, making it challenging to pinpoint the problematic food. 

We understand how frustrating this can be! As a parent, you want answers and solutions quickly. You may have turned to a gut microbiome test hoping it will find exactly what’s causing your child’s discomfort. 

For some children with food allergies or sensitivities, the gut microbiome holds crucial insights. However, the contributing factors are complex and varied. Genetics, immune responses, and environmental factors all play significant roles [1]. Understanding this complexity and what a gut microbiome test can reveal is essential for adopting a holistic treatment approach.  

Let’s talk about what  a Tiny Health Gut Health Test can and can’t show, and how our programs support you throughout the journey.

My kid is struggling with food allergies/sensitivities. What can a gut microbiome test tell me?

Food allergies and sensitivities stem from a mix of genetics, diet, and the microbiome [1]. A gut microbiome test gives you a snapshot of the bacteria in your child's digestive system and shows how well these bacteria can perform certain functions. A balanced gut microbiome keeps the gut barrier strong and trains the immune system to recognize safe foods.

Imbalances in the gut microbiome can weaken the gut barrier, making it more "leaky" to harmful substances. This disruption can cause the immune system to react aggressively to certain foods, leading to inflammation and allergy symptoms.

Studies show that children with food allergies like egg, peanut, soy, wheat, and milk often have gut microbiome imbalances [2]-[6]. Testing your child's gut microbiome is an important step in finding the root cause of an allergy, but remember that these tests are just one piece of the puzzle. There are other factors involved and gut microbiome tests can't directly diagnose specific food allergies or sensitivities.

Will the results tell me what foods my child can/can't eat?

It’s a common misconception that a microbiome test will give you a definitive list of safe and unsafe foods to eat. Instead, these tests analyze the types and amounts of bacteria in the gut, providing insights into how these microbes might be affecting digestion, causing inflammation, and disrupting the gut barrier. 

While a gut microbiome test can suggest foods that may be beneficial for improving gut health, it doesn’t replace traditional allergy or sensitivity testing, which remains essential for identifying specific trigger foods.

Which parts of the report could be important for my child’s food allergy?

When reviewing your child’s results, a few metrics warrant special attention:

Levels of Bifidobacterium

Bifidobacterium are beneficial bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, modulate the immune system, and prevent disruptive microbes from growing unchecked [7], [8]. These bacteria are crucial for a baby's gut during the initial months, particularly those Bifidobacterium species that excel at breaking down breastmilk sugars, known as HMOs [9]. A lack of these essential bacteria can allow harmful microbes to thrive, compromise the gut barrier, or trigger inflammation.

The Beneficial microbes category includes a section on Immune Strength where you can find the levels of Bifidobacterium

Opportunistic pathogens

When present in high levels, opportunistic pathogens may cause trouble by promoting inflammation and disrupting the gut barrier. A weakened gut barrier is more permeable, something that has been detected in those with food allergies [10], [11]. Also, one study found that 3-month old babies with higher levels of Enterobacteriaceae were at increased risk of developing food sensitivities at 12 months of age [2]. 

Opportunistic Pathogens are listed in the Disruptive Microbes category of your report

Overabundant species

An overabundance of a single species is not ideal for gut health. High levels of unfriendly or variable species can cause problems. Even an excess of one beneficial species isn’t optimal, as it can occupy too much space and contribute to low Shannon diversity.

If any overabundant species are detected in your sample, they are displayed within the Balance and robustness category

The Food Allergy Biomarker (from 3 months to 3 years old)

Scientists have identified certain gut bacteria that may be associated with a higher or lower risk of developing food allergy in babies [6], [12], [13]. Starting at 3 months old and up to 3 years old, the Tiny Health Gut Test reports the Food Allergy Biomarker, which shows whether your baby has a food allergy microbiome signature. In simple words, this tells you whether your baby has an increased microbiome risk of developing a food allergy. This is different from food sensitivity.

The Conditions Biomarkers section shows if your baby’s microbiome has a signature for food allergy and other conditions

If your child is over 3 years old, microbiome testing can still provide valuable insight into their gut health. For those who already have food allergies, this predictive biomarker is less impactful. Addressing imbalances can help improve gut health, which may positively impact your little one’s allergy.

My child’s results have many things flagged. What does this mean for their food allergy?

It's not uncommon for gut microbiome tests to flag multiple areas. However, it's crucial to interpret these findings in the context of your child's overall health and symptoms. Having many flagged items doesn't necessarily indicate severe gut imbalances or contributions to food allergy symptoms. Instead, it reflects the complexity of the gut microbiome.

That said, research on the link between the gut microbiome and food allergies is ongoing. It’s possible that other metrics, different from the ones discussed above, play a role in your child’s symptoms. We recommend focusing on improving a few key metrics first. If you’re unsure, our microbiome specialists can guide you through the action plan to prioritize your next steps. Supporting overall gut health promotes a positive interaction between gut microbes and the immune system.

My child's gut microbiome looks good despite their food reactions—How is this possible?

You may be surprised to learn that your child’s gut microbiome looks good given how much they struggle with food allergies or sensitivities. Certainly gut microbes must have something to do with it!

For some little ones, the gut microbiome plays a key role in the development of food allergies, and symptoms may improve when addressing imbalances. For others, the gut may not be the main culprit. Other factors like genetic predispositions, environmental exposures, and immune system responses can play a more prominent role [1]. If things look good in your child’s gut microbiome, that’s good news, as you have ruled out one of the possible contributing factors.

The gut microbiome changes quickly in the first months of life and helps to train your baby's immune system. Things like starting solid foods, weaning, and using probiotics or supplements can greatly affect their gut microbiome. Your child may have had early imbalances that have since improved, but their immune system might still be catching up.

If the answer is not in the gut microbiome, what to do next? If you haven’t already done it, you can start by keeping a detailed food diary, noting everything your child eats and any symptoms that follow. This helps pinpoint potential food triggers. 

Trying an elimination diet can also be insightful. This requires careful planning, patience, and must be guided by a healthcare provider to ensure your child keeps receiving all the essential nutrients. Consulting with an allergist for skin prick or blood tests can provide additional clarity.

We understand it can be frustrating trying to navigate food allergies and food sensitivities with your little one. But rest assured that checking for gut imbalances is important for their current and future health. Science keeps discovering new links between the gut microbiome and many health conditions.

Comprehensive support for your food allergy journey

At Tiny Health, we understand how difficult it can be to deal with food allergies or sensitivities, especially when gut microbiome tests don't give all the answers. That's why we offer more than just testing, providing a holistic approach tailored to your child's unique needs.

Tiny Health’s Baby's Gut Program offers continuous support to help you manage your child's allergy symptoms. This program includes:

  • Functional coaching sessions. 1-on-1 sessions with a microbiome specialist to guide you through your results, action plan, and progress.
  • Supplement recommendations. Carefully curated probiotic and other supplement suggestions, meticulously reviewed by our team of scientists.
  • Personalized dietary guidance. Tailored dietary advice, specifically calibrated to support your child's gut microbiome, immune system, and skin.
  • Parent-approved, science-backed products. Our recommendations are backed by scientific research and vetted by our team.
  • Ongoing support and training. Comprehensive guidance during antibiotic treatment, dietary adjustments, and flare-ups, providing reassurance and guidance every step of the way.
  • Review and optimization. Thorough review of current allergy treatment strategies and exploration of alternative tactics. We empower you with a diverse toolkit for managing your child's symptoms effectively.

If you're looking for answers to your child's symptoms, you're not alone. Many families have found relief by improving the gut microbiome. If your child's gut health test shows a balanced microbiome, we want you to feel reassured and empowered. 

Knowing there are no gut imbalances gives you important insights into your child's future health. We're here to support you on your family's health journey, offering more advice on managing symptoms and maintaining a healthy microbiome for a better future.

References

[1] S. H. Sicherer and H. A. Sampson, “Food allergy: A review and update on epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, prevention, and management,” J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., vol. 141, no. 1, pp. 41–58, Jan. 2018, doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.11.003.

[2] M. B. Azad et al., “Infant gut microbiota and food sensitization: associations in the first year of life,” Clin. Exp. Allergy J. Br. Soc. Allergy Clin. Immunol., vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 632–643, Mar. 2015, doi: 10.1111/cea.12487.

[3] A. Abdel-Gadir et al., “Microbiota therapy acts via a regulatory T cell MyD88/RORγt pathway to suppress food allergy,” Nat. Med., vol. 25, no. 7, pp. 1164–1174, Jul. 2019, doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0461-z.

[4] C.-C. Chen, K.-J. Chen, M.-S. Kong, H.-J. Chang, and J.-L. Huang, “Alterations in the gut microbiotas of children with food sensitization in early life,” Pediatr. Allergy Immunol. Off. Publ. Eur. Soc. Pediatr. Allergy Immunol., vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 254–262, May 2016, doi: 10.1111/pai.12522.

[5] M. Fazlollahi et al., “Early-life gut microbiome and egg allergy,” Allergy, vol. 73, no. 7, pp. 1515–1524, Jul. 2018, doi: 10.1111/all.13389.

[6] J. H. Savage et al., “A prospective microbiome-wide association study of food sensitization and food allergy in early childhood,” Allergy, vol. 73, no. 1, pp. 145–152, Jan. 2018, doi: 10.1111/all.13232.

[7] B. M. Henrick et al., “Bifidobacteria-mediated immune system imprinting early in life,” Cell, vol. 184, no. 15, Art. no. 15, Jul. 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.05.030.

[8] A. O’Callaghan and D. van Sinderen, “Bifidobacteria and Their Role as Members of the Human Gut Microbiota,” Front. Microbiol., vol. 7, p. 925, 2016, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00925.

[9] F. Turroni, C. Milani, S. Duranti, J. Mahony, D. van Sinderen, and M. Ventura, “Glycan Utilization and Cross-Feeding Activities by Bifidobacteria,” Trends Microbiol., vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 339–350, Apr. 2018, doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2017.10.001.

[10] M. T. Ventura et al., “Intestinal permeability in patients with adverse reactions to food,” Dig. Liver Dis. Off. J. Ital. Soc. Gastroenterol. Ital. Assoc. Study Liver, vol. 38, no. 10, pp. 732–736, Oct. 2006, doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2006.06.012.

[11] M. Niewiem and U. Grzybowska-Chlebowczyk, “Assessment of Selected Intestinal Permeability Markers in Children with Food Allergy Depending on the Type and Severity of Clinical Symptoms,” Nutrients, vol. 14, no. 20, p. 4385, Oct. 2022, doi: 10.3390/nu14204385.

[12] S. Bunyavanich et al., “Early-life gut microbiome composition and milk allergy resolution,” J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., vol. 138, no. 4, pp. 1122–1130, Oct. 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.03.041.

[13] B. Rodriguez et al., “Infant gut microbiota is protective against cow’s milk allergy in mice despite immature ileal T-cell response,” FEMS Microbiol. Ecol., vol. 79, no. 1, pp. 192–202, Jan. 2012, doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2011.01207.x.