Special infant formula may not prevent allergies

Last Updated: 2011-07-04 12:04:20 -0400 (Reuters Health)

By Eric Schultz

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite pediatric guidelines endorsing "allergy-friendly" whey-based infant formulas, in one recent study the products didn't prevent allergies in babies at high risk for sensitivities.

Infants with a family history of allergies to foods or environmental allergens who were fed Nestle's NAN Hypoallergenic whey product after they stopped breastfeeding were just as likely to develop allergies later as children who were fed milk or soy formulas, researchers reported online June 23rd in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The "findings do not support the recommendation that (the whey formula) should be used after breast-feeding as a preventive strategy for infants at high risk of allergic diseases," wrote Adrian Lowe and colleagues at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Because previous research showed that proteins in cow's milk formulas may make allergies more likely, many pediatricians recommend partially hydrolyzed whey formula (pHWF) instead. pHWF has smaller proteins that are believed to be less likely to cause an allergic response.

To test whether whey-based formula really does build protection from allergies, the Australian researchers randomly assigned 620 high-risk infants to receive pHWF, cow's milk formula, or soy milk formula after they stopped breastfeeding.

The infants in the study had been breastfed for an average of three and a half months before they were given formula.

Over the next two years, the babies had periodic skin prick tests to gauge their responses to common allergens such as milk, egg, peanut, dust mite, grass and cat dander, and they were watched for signs of eczema or food reactions.

Just over half the babies in the study developed allergies, and they were equally likely to do so no matter which type of formula they had consumed.

The researchers also found that formula choice had no effect on the child's risk of asthma.

Earlier studies have found that pHWF (or similar products) can protect against allergies when they are introduced early and the baby is not exclusively breastfed.

The new results will not change current clinical recommendations, but highlight the need for further study, said Dr. Wesley Burks, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the work.

While whey formula may benefit children who are not breastfed compared to cow's milk formula, it is not recommended as a substitute for breastfeeding, said Dr. Jose Saavedra, medical and scientific director at Nestle Nutrition.


J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011.

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