Does probiotic-enriched milk reduce allergic disease in early childhood?

Published Online: September 12, 2013

Microbial colonization of the gut may influence maturation of the immune system in infants and thus manipulation of the microbiome by probiotic supplementation in pregnancy and infancy has been suggested as an approach in the prevention of early allergic disease. Clinical trials have provided some evidence that probiotic supplementation may protect against atopic eczema, but more evidence is needed before a consensus can be reached. There is no evidence for a protective effect of probiotics against asthma development. Clinical trials have almost exclusively focused on high-risk children.

In an original research article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Bertelsen et al. assessed probiotic milk and yogurt consumption in pregnancy and infancy (after 6 months of age) and the risk of allergic disease development in early childhood. They used data from more than 40,000 mother and children pairs participating in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study that recruited pregnant women from all over Norway between 1999 and 2008.

Most of the mothers (74%) had no history of allergic disease. The authors assessed the consumption of probiotic-enriched milk and yoghurt in pregnancy (reported in the pregnancy food frequency questionnaire) and in infancy (reported in the postnatal questionnaires). The products contained lactobacilli and bifidobacteria species and were the only probiotic foods widely available at the market during the time of the study.

Probiotic milk were consumed by 37% of the mothers during pregnancy and 18% had also given their child probiotic milk after 6 months of age. The authors found that maternal probiotic milk consumption in pregnancy was associated with a slightly reduced relative risk of atopic eczema at 6 months and of rhinoconjunctivitis symptoms between 18-36 months. No association was seen for asthma by 36 months of age. Probiotic milk consumption by both the mother and the infant combined was associated with a reduced relative risk of atopic eczema at 18 months and with rhinoconjunctivits between 18 and 36 months relative to no consumption by either.

In summary, this study provides support for the hypothesis that probiotics in pregnancy and infancy might help prevent atopic eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis in early childhood for the general population.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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