Probiotics for the prevention of eczema in children

Earlier this year I wrote a couple of posts concentrating on the accumulating evidence which suggests that probiotic (‘friendly’ gut bacteria) supplements may be useful to boost the immune system.  In children, studies have shown that probiotic and prebiotic (food supplement that feeds the good bacteria in the digestive system) supplements may be useful in preventing recurrent ear infections and also the common cold.

A recently published study (1) has found that prebiotic and probiotic supplements, which improve the intestinal bacterial balance, may be particularly important in preventing eczema in susceptible infants.  It has been thought for a while now that modification of the intestinal bacterial balance could be an important approach to preventing allergic disease.  This particular study aimed to look at the prevention of allergic disease in high-risk children (children with parents and/or siblings with allergic conditions).  The probiotic bacteria was given to pregnant mothers of high-risk children, ie where there was a positive family history of allergic disease, and then to the infant children for the first 12months of life.  This was a controlled trial so there were some mothers/children who were given a placebo, they did not receive a probiotic supplement. 

Parental-reported eczema during the first 3 months of life was significantly lower in the intervention group compared with placebo (1).  The authors conclude their study by reporting “This particular combination of probiotic bacteria shows a preventive effect on the incidence of eczema in high-risk children, which seems to be sustained during the first 2 years of life. In addition to previous studies, the preventive effect appears to be established within the first 3 months of life

If there are allergies in your family and you think that your child may be at risk of developing eczema or asthma then you may consider taking a probiotic and probiotic supplement during pregnancy and also giving an infant probiotic supplement (there are many available) to your baby during the first year to two years of life.  Please talk to your doctor or health professional before beginning a supplement regimen during pregnancy or with an infant child

A fairly recent study (2) assessed the safety of feeding probiotic supplements to newborn infants and found that such supplements were safe and seemed to increase resistance to infections during the first 2 years of life.  The study was well designed and began with pregnant mothers who were given either a mixture of probiotics or placebo for 4 weeks before they were due to give birth.  Their babies were given the same probiotics in conjunction with a prebiotic or placebo for 6 months after birth.  925 infants were involved and followed up for 2 years.  During the 6-month supplement intervention, antibiotics were prescribed less often in the prebiotic/probiotic group than in the placebo group and throughout the 2 year follow-up period, infections occurred less frequently in the group receiving these supplements.

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition thought to be related to other allergies, such as asthma.  Due to the inflammatory nature of the condition it is thought that long chain omega 3 fatty acids may also be particularly useful in treating the condition, I have previously written about this here, as well as in the post relating to asthma.

(1) Niers L et al.  2009.  The effects of selected probiotic strains on the development of eczema (the PandA study).  Allergy.  64(9):1349-58.
(2) Kukkonen K et al.  2008.  Long-term safety and impact on infection rates of postnatal probiotic and prebiotic (synbiotic) treatment: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 122(1):8-12.
Written by Ani Kowal