by Monica Wilde. 25 August 2012
It is already known that breastfeeding your children from more than six months, improves their chances of avoiding eczema and atopic diseases (Saarinen & Kajosaari, 1995). But attention has now turned to what exactly is passed from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding, in order to provide the maximum protective benefits to children.
A randomised-controlled, double blind trial was undertaken by the Department of Public Health and General Practice at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (Dotterud et al, 2010). They wanted to test whether there was any accuracy in earlier reports which claimed that the occurrence of eczema in children is halved when probiotics are given to mothers and children with a family trend of developing atopic dermatitis (infantile eczema) by 2 years old.
They took four hundred and fifteen pregnant women (chosen at random by a computer) and divided them into two groups. A control group was given 250 ml of sterile plain milk and the test group was given 250 ml of a probiotic milk. (Fermented milk with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, L. acidophilus La-5 and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis Bb-12 added to it.) Both groups took their milk daily from 36 weeks of pregnancy up until their child was 3 months old and still being breastfed - a total period of four months.
When their children were 2 years old, or if they developed an itchy rash for more than four weeks, they were examined for signs of eczema, asthma and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis - caused by hay fever. Two hundred and seventy four children completed the study, meeting all the trial criteria, and were examined - 137 from mothers taking probiotic milk and 137 from mothers who drank the sterile milk.
The study found that drinking probiotic milk had little effect on whether the children developed asthma or atopic sensitization - this is the state of being 'hyperallergic' with a tendency to allergic reactions, eczema, hay fever, asthma and food allergies.
However, it did find that it dramatically cut the incidence of eczema in the probiotic group. Also, children in the probiotic group who did get eczema had far less severe symptoms than those with eczema in the plain milk group. The researchers found fewer and less severe cases of eczema in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group, and their subgroup analysis showed the preventive effect to be strongest in the participants without a family history of atopy. If you have a family history of eczema the protective benefit is not as great as if you have no family history of eczema. This is useful to know as without a family history, you may not think your child is at risk, but world statistics show that eczema cases have been steadily rising since the 1940s.
Dotterud CK, Storrø O, Johnsen R & Oien T. Probiotics in pregnant women to prevent allergic disease: a randomized, double-blind trial.
Br J Dermatol. 2010 Sep;163(3):616-23.
Saarinen UM, Kajosaari M. Breastfeeding as prophylaxis against atopic disease: prospective follow-up study until 17 years old. Lancet. 1995 Oct 21;346(8982):1065-9.