Bottle-Fed Babies Can Avoid Allergies with Prebiotics
August 14, 2008—When it comes to protecting newborns from allergies, breast-feeding is best, but recent research provides good news for mothers who are unable or choose not to breast-feed: A new study found that young children of parents with allergies were less likely to develop allergies if they received formula with prebiotics—supplements that support the growth of healthy bacteria in the large intestine—during infancy.
Making bottle milk resemble breast milk
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, included 134 bottle-fed babies at increased risk of developing allergies because one or both of their parents had allergies. They were fed a hypoallergenic infant formula supplemented with either a combination of 90% galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and 10% fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) or placebo for the first six months of life and were followed for two years.
Oligosaccharides are short chains of sugars found in plant foods and breast milk. The healthy bacteria that colonize the human large intestine rely on these sugars to grow and reproduce. The combination of GOS and FOS used in this study was chosen because its effect on intestinal bacterial growth is similar to that of human breast milk.
The two-year-old children who had received the oligosaccharide-supplemented formula during infancy were less likely to have experienced allergies than the children who did not. They were half as likely to have had eczema, one-third as likely to have had recurrent wheezing, and one-seventh as likely to have had hives as children in the placebo group. They also had fewer upper respiratory tract infections such as ear, throat, and sinus infections, and fewer prescriptions for antibiotics.
“This is the first follow-up study, to our knowledge, showing that an early dietary intervention results in dual prevention for infection and allergy and that both effects last beyond the intervention period,” the study’s authors said.
Help for a growing problem
A dramatic rise in the incidence of allergies has been noted worldwide over the past few decades. Experts believe there are a number of reasons for this trend, including changes in diet and hygiene that affect the microflora of the lower intestine. Given that one of every two children with a parent with allergies will also have allergies by age two, this trend is likely to continue unless effective prevention strategies are identified.
“The first six months of life is a critical period for the developing immune system,” commented lead study author Dr. Sertac Arslanoglu of the Center for Infant Nutrition, Macedonio Melloni Hospital, University of Milan. “Breast-feeding is the best way to ensure healthy development of the immune system, but for parents who cannot breast-feed, an oligosaccharide-fortified infant formula appears to strengthen the immune system by positively influencing the balance of intestinal bacteria. This effect on the immune system seems to have lasting benefits for the health of the child.”
(J Nutr 2008;138:1091–5)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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