Whey-based infant formula may not prevent allergies

A special infant formula touted to prevent babies developing allergies later in life has been shown not to have any greater effect than other infant formulas. Even though paediatric guidelines endorse the allergy-friendly Nestlé’s whey based formula, the research, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, shows that children fed this product after they stopped breastfeeding were no less likely to develop allergies, if they came from a high-risk background, than babies fed any other cow or soy based formula.

Previous research had found that the proteins in traditional cow’s milk formulas may make developing allergies more likely, so doctors had recommended partially hydrolyzed whey formulas (pWHF) as an alternative, because the pWHFs have smaller proteins that are believed to be less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Australian researchers from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbounre, Australia, led by Adrian Lowe, randomly divided 620 high-risk children into three groups that received pWHF, cow’s milk formula or soy milk formula after they stopped breastfeeding at an average of three and a half months. The babies’ progress was then followed for two years, during which time they had skin prick tests (SPT) to gauge their immune response to common allergens such as cat dander, milk, egg, peanut, dust mite and grass. They were also watched for signs of eczema and food allergy.

Just over half the children developed allergies, and they were equally likely to do so no matter what type of formula they had been given. The formula type also had no bearing on the risk of asthma, another immune system response related to allergy.

Earlier studies had shown that pWHF or similar products, which cost no more than other formulas in the shops, could protect against allergies when they are introduced early and the baby is not exclusively breastfed. Dr Jose Saavedra, medical and scientific director at Nestlé Nutrition, said that whey formula might benefit children who are not breastfed, compared to cow’s milk formula, but that it is not recommended as a substitute for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has important health and nutritional benefits for the baby that formula cannot provide. Further study in this area is needed.

Source: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

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