Probiotics in Pregnancy May Reduce Infant Eczema
Women who take supplemental probiotics (“friendly” bacteria) during pregnancy and breastfeeding may help lower the risk of their child developing eczema, according to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2002;109:119–21). The significance of this new information is that it suggests mothers may be able to protect their children’s health, even before they are born.
Eczema is a skin condition characterized by severe itching, often with redness and flaking. The prevalence of eczema has continued to increase in Western societies over the past several decades, although the reason remains unknown. Some studies suggest food allergies may be one cause of eczema.
Researchers gave 62 pregnant women a capsule of Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (Lactobacillus GG) or a placebo four weeks before and 3 months following delivery. All infants were breastfed during the 3 months of the study. The children were then evaluated periodically for 18 more months so their skin health could be assessed. The incidence of eczema in the children whose mothers took Lactobacillus GG was 15%, compared with almost 50% in the children whose mothers took the placebo. No side effects were observed in the mothers or children during Lactobacillus GG supplementation.
The mechanism by which beneficial bacteria prevents eczema is not completely understood. However, recent studies have shown that these bacteria help increase the production of immunoglobulin A (IgA), a component of the immune system that helps defend the body against allergens in the diet. When pregnant or breastfeeding women take probiotics, substances that stimulate IgA production are transferred to the child via the blood or breast milk, respectively, thereby reducing the risk of developing eczema.
When taking any form of probiotic one must consider the source. Concerns have been raised by healthcare professionals regarding the quality of some probiotic products. The beneficial effects of probiotics are dependent on whether the bacteria are alive, but many products have been shown to contain no live bacteria. It is unknown whether probiotics other than Lactobacillus GG would have the same beneficial effect in preventing eczema.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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