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Infant formulas linked to eczema reduction

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Hypoallergenic infant formulas may help lower the long-term risk of allergies in children who are genetically vulnerable to them, a new study suggests.

The products, known as hydrolysed infant formulas, are designed to lower the probability of the allergic responses some infants have to standard formula.

Hydrolysed infant formulae contain cow milk proteins, but they are broken down to be less allergenic than the whole proteins found in regular formula.

Studies have shown that, compared with regular formulae, hydrolysed formulae appear to lower the risk of eczema and dermatitis in infancy and early childhood, though breast milk is still considered the best nutrition for infants, and has been shown to lower the risk of allergies.

In 2008, research using the German Infant Nutritional Intervention (GINI) study, funded by the German Government, found that if hydrolysed infant formula was received in the first four months of life it had a long-lasting preventative effect on atopic eczema in high-risk children. The research tracked more than 2200 children until the age of six.

Children are considered high-risk if they have a parent or sibling with a history of allergic disease. It is estimated that 50 per cent of Australian infants are considered high risk.

Researchers have since expanded the scope of study to track the same children as in the original study, but this time through to the age of 10.

They found that hydrolysed infant formula continues to have a preventive effect on the cumulative incidence of allergic disease, without rebound.

At birth, children were randomly assigned to receive one of four blinded formulae as a breast milk substitute for the first four months. The four formulas were: partially hydrolysed whey formula, extensively hydrolysed whey formula, extensively hydrolysed casein formula or standard cow’s milk formula.

The research found that partially hydrolysed whey formula and extensively hydrolysed casein formula had a significant effect in reducing the likelihood of developing atopic eczema and dermatitis, up to 29 per cent, compared with high risk children consuming cow milk formula.

Extensively hydrolysed whey formula showed no significant risk reduction. There was no preventative effect on asthma or allergic rhinitis.

The research concluded, “[our] results support the present recommendation to use certain cow’s milk protein hydrolysate infant formulas in high-risk infants to reduce the risk of atopic eczema, but not for respiratory allergies”.

The research was published in the June edition of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.