An analysis published by the Cochrane Collaboration (an organization that reviews medical research) suggests that baby formula containing prebiotics may help prevent eczema. The analysis is an updated review from 2007 which, however, didn’t find evidence for prebiotics in baby formula having any effect on the itchy skin condition or other infant allergies that tend to be on the rise. Eczema alone affects about 20 percent of babies.
Dr. John Sinn, senior author of the analysis explained that gut flora and immunity are closely connected. And according to Sinn, this is where prebiotics may help. Sinn and his researchers suggest that these particles of food may offer protection against common allergens including those that trigger baby eczema by promoting gut bacterial growth and subsequently, enhance immunity. And the results of their updated review imply that babies who can’t breastfeed may benefit from formula that contains prebiotics.
The researchers reviewed four different studies that included over 1,400 babies who were fed either with regular formula or formula containing prebiotics. The analyzed studies included a report about whether or not babies developed allergies such as hives, eczema and asthma according to the type of formula they were drinking. The researchers found that there was no difference between infants fed with regular and fortified formula in regard to hives and asthma but they noticed that eczema was less common in babies who were fed with formula containing prebiotics.
Approximately 8 percent of over 630 babies who were fed with fortified formula developed the itchy skin condition. Of over 580 babies who were given regular formula, about 12 percent developed eczema. Although the findings of the analysis suggest that babies fed with formula containing prebiotics are less likely to develop eczema, the researchers emphasized that their evidence isn’t particularly strong. They said that their analysis is based on four different and unrelated studies and that they don’t know whether prebiotics offer lasting benefits because babies participating in the four studies were aged 4 months to 2 years.
Dr. Frank Greer from the Meriter Hospital’s Wisconsin Perinatal Center in Madison said he isn’t convinced by the findings of the analysis. Greer who is also a co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) report on prebiotics and probiotics said the surest way to reduce the risk of baby eczema is to exclusively breastfeed for 4 months. If breastfeeding isn’t possible for one reason or the other, he recommends hydrolyzed formulas because they have been shown to pose a lower risk of allergies than regular formulas that are made with cow’s milk.
Greer said prebiotics can’t hurt but he added that they are unlikely to guard a child against eczema and other allergic conditions. He also repeated the recommendations of the AAP to exclusively breastfeed during the first six months if possible. At the age of 6 months, the child may be introduced to solid foods but it is recommended to continue breastfeeding.
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