Probiotic reduces eczema occurrence: Fonterra

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 10th September 2008

A probiotic, or “good bacteria”, isolated by Fonterra, has been found to be effective in reducing the occurrence of eczema in young children by almost 50 per cent.A two-year trial of probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain HN001, or DR20, conducted by the University of Otago’s Wellington School of Medicine and Auckland University also showed that by the age of two, infants who had been given DR20, but who contracted eczema, had less severe symptoms than children who had not taken DR20.

Karen Webber, Global Category Manager Paediatric Nutrition at Fonterra, reported that the findings will hopefully ensure it becomes a part of infant formulas in the future. “As a result of this breakthrough, Fonterra Ingredients is looking to commercialise the probiotic with major global infant formula manufacturers as one of a range of initiatives helping Fonterra to expand its portfolio of specialty ingredients,” she advised.

Worldwide, 15-20 per cent of children are affected by eczema, with rates continuing to increase in both Western and Asian countries. Around half of cases are diagnosed before the age of one year. The reason for the increase in eczema prevalence is not clear, although it may be due to the decrease in exposure to environmental micro-organisms (the so-called “hygiene hypothesis”).

The study supports the concept that by placing beneficial bacterial cultures in the diet through probiotics, infants can build healthier immune responses, leading to a reduction in allergic diseases.

Professor Julian Crane from the University of Otago Wellington, claimed that the study was particularly significant because it used two probiotics, and proved that one prevented eczema and the other responded no better than the placebo. “The reason for this is that the beneficial effects of probiotics vary depending on which strains are used,” he noted. “As yet, no-one has done a trial with two and found such a strong signal of the effectiveness of one of those strains.”

The trial targeted 446 pregnant women who received either Fonterra probiotic DR20, a second Fonterra probiotic, or a placebo, during the last five weeks of their pregnancies and for 6 months after birth if they were breastfeeding. Their newborns received the same daily supplement from birth to two years of age.

All children involved in the trial were considered at ‘high-risk’ of inheriting eczema due to a family history of allergic disease.

The trial reportedly builds on other positive findings for DR20 including a pre-trial to the Wellington study, and trials that show immune benefits in adults. But what sets the impact of this study apart from previous trials is the size and length of the study and evidence of efficacy at a lower dose, which eventually means lower cost-in-use.

Another major strength of the trial is that both probiotic strains tested were found to be perfectly safe to consume, according to Fonterra. This is particularly important in sensitive target populations such as infant children, and boosts the long-term potential for specialist consumer product opportunities for Fonterra.

Professor Crane said further study is being done to discover if the infants treated with DR20 in this trial display reduced allergies at a later age, as eczema in infancy has been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma or other allergic diseases later in childhood. “The positive findings regarding DR20TM warrant further study to determine how this particular probiotic actually works to reduce eczema in children,” he said.

The study is to be published in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in October.