Micronutrient deficiencies can promote inflammation and render the immune system particularly sensitive to allergenic substances. In particular, iron deficiency signals danger to immune cells and leads to a more pronounced, exaggerated immune response. For the first time, scientists at the Messerli Research Institute of MedUni Vienna, Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna conducted a placebo-controlled trial and showed that targeted dietary measures can reduce the symptom burden in allergic reactions. The researchers are therefore treading a completely new path in the care of allergy sufferers. The study was recently published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
The background to the studies conducted by researchers at the inter-university Messerli Research Institute in collaboration with the University Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases at MedUni Vienna is the vicious circle of allergy: a hyperactive immune system sets the body on alert and inhibits adequate absorption of iron – even though this is precisely the micronutrient needed to moderate the overreaction. To compensate micronutrional deficiencies in immune cells, the scientific team developed a lozenge that was tested for the first time in a double-blind, placebo-controlled manner as part of the study.
Circumventing inhibition of iron absorption
The lozenge is based on the whey protein beta-lactoglobulin from cows, which acts as a carrier for numerous micronutrients. “Thanks to this carrier, absorption takes place via the lymph instead of blood vessels – in other words, exactly where immune cells are present in abundance ensuring micronutrient uptake in a targeted manner,” explains study leader Franziska Roth-Walter from the Messerli Research Institute. Since a tablet only contains a very small amount of iron, less than one milligram, it is not considered an iron supplement. Instead, the micronutrients are in a suitable form to be carried by the whey protein beta-lactoglobulin and thus to the immune cells. According to the study results, supplementation with this lozenge significantly reduced the symptom burden in birch and grass pollen-allergic individuals. In addition, after six months of intake, there was an improvement identifiable in the iron status of circulating monocytes and red blood cell parameters. Supplementation with the lozenge resulted in a 45% reduction of the Combined Symptom Medication Score, a measure for the symptoms and medication use, during the peak birch pollen season.
Reducing immune cell hypersensitivity
To date, specific allergen immunotherapy is considered the only causal treatment option for alleviating allergic diseases. This involves using an allergen specifically against the allergy in question, e.g. birch pollen against birch pollen allergy. “Supplying the immune cells with micronutrients via the lozenge showed a strikingly similar efficacy, but in a completely allergen-independent and therefore universal way,” clarifies Franziska Roth-Walter. The study, therefore, presents a new approach in the care of allergy sufferers. In this approach, a dietary measure is used to reduce the underlying hypersensitivity of the immune cells to allergenic substances rather than targeting the allergy itself.
Materials provided by the Medical University of Vienna. Content may be edited for clarity, style, and length.