Researchers in New Zealand are hoping that friendly bacilli similar to those found in yoghurts will be able to help relieve the suffering of those thousands of people truck down with hayfever each year.
Dr Peter Black, associate professor of medicine at the Auckland Medical School, is recruiting 40 volunteers for a 10-week study. Half the volunteers will be given two capsules a day containing the micro-organisms lactobacillus rhamnosus and bifidobacterium lactis, while the rest will given a placebo.
Dr Black said that the two probiotic micro-organisms were slightly different strains of that found in both the yoghurt and in the gut of certain individuals. "These are strains that have been particularly selected out as potentially particularly beneficial," he said.
Around one in five people in New Zealand suffers from hayfever, while in the west as a whole, allergy-related disease rates have doubled over the last 20 years, Dr Black said.
Dr Black and his team is looking only for volunteers who suffer from hayfever all year round, and who are therefore likely to allergic to house-dust mites. Seasonal sufferers are usually allergic to pollen.
Dr Black said researchers in Finland last year found that children of parents with allergies were only half as likely as other children to develop eczema by the age of two if they were fed lactobacillus rhamnosus until they were six months old.
"Eczema, asthma and hayfever tend to track together. If you have one you are more likely to have the others. It's thought that the processes underlying the diseases are similar."