Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition, and childhood eczema can be distressing for both children and their parents. Unfortunately, childhood eczema is becoming increasingly common.
Research published last month in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that children who take probiotics in the first two years of life had a decreased incidence of eczema, and were protected against the condition until at least 4 years of age.
The researchers followed 425 infants for 4 years after daily supplementation with the probiotics L. Rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium animalis or placebo.
The mothers were given a probiotic supplement or a placebo pill at the gestational age of 35 weeks. Each mother continued to take the supplement for 6 months following the birth, while her baby was breastfeeding. After this time, all of the infants were given a probiotic or placebo supplement from birth until the age of 2.
The results showed that the protective effect of the probiotic lasted until the children were at least 4 years of age.
The research team published the initial results of their double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, back in 2008 (2). Here they tested the effects of the probiotic during the first two years of life. They found that the supplement L. Rhamnosus (strain HN001) resulted in a 49% reduction in eczema prevalence – essentially it halved the risk of eczema in the children studied.
The more recent study demonstrates that the benefits of L. Rhamnosus HN001 persisted to age 4 years, despite the fact that probiotic supplementation stopped two years earlier. This suggests that this particular probiotic might work as a protective measure against eczema for high-risk infants.
There is no way of knowing for sure if you baby will have eczema. However, the risk of your baby developing eczema is much greater if someone in your family has already had eczema, asthma and hayfever. If these conditions are present in your family, then probiotic supplementation may offer some degree of protection for your children.
The authors of the study concede that “the precise pathways for effects [of probiotics] on allergic disease remain elusive and require more work”. In light of the distress that this skin condition can cause to both children and parents, I certainly hope that this study paves the way for future research in this area.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
1. Wickens, K. et al (2012) A protective effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 against eczema in the first 2 years of life persists to age 4 years. Clinical & Experimental Allergy. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2012.03975
2. Wicken et al (2008) A differential effect of 2 probiotics in the prevention of eczema and atopy: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy & Clin Immunol 122:4, pp. 788-794
3. Image courtesy of Rocknroli.