Feeding babies alcoholic milk may help to protect against some food allergies. Kefir, a traditional fermented drink, is consumed in Eastern Europe as a health food, and is often used to wean babies, as it is easily digested.
Food allergy prevalence is especially high in children under the age of three, with around 5-8% of infants at risk. Currently the only treatment is avoidance of the problematic food.
"Friendly" bacteria in kefir may play a role in blocking the pathway involved in allergic responses, Lisa Richards reports in Chemistry & Industry, SCI's fortnightly magazine. Research published 16 October 2006(DOI 10.1002/jsfa2469) in the SCI's Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture has shown that the milk drink inhibits the allergen specific antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is involved in immune responses to inactivate organisms that might cause disease. However, in the presence of allergens it can also activate cells responsible for the release of histamine, a chemical which stimulates allergic responses, such as inflammation and constriction of airways.
Ji-Ruei Liu's team of scientists at the National Formosa University, Yunlin, Taiwan, fed mice the milky drink, and found that after 3 weeks, the amount of ovalbumin (OVA) specific IgE was reduced three-fold. Ovalbumin is an allergenic protein found in egg whites, which cause most allergies in young children. Kefir is also reported to prevent food antigens from passing through the intestinal wall.
Liu believes that the milky drink could be a promising tool in the prevention of allergies. "In the future, maybe we can screen out the certain components (bacterial strains or bioactive peptides) from kefir and utilize them in medicine," he said.
Also in this weeks Chemistry & Industry, UK firm Rigest are looking for backers to develop an air sanitizing system using an enzyme found naturally in human tears. Lactoperoxidase can attack and kill microbes such as 'flu viruses and the bacteria responsible for MRSA. The system could be used to sanitize the air in airplanes and hospital sick bays.