Prebiotics in infants for prevention of allergic disease and food hypersensitivity

  • Review
  • Intervention

Authors


Abstract

Background

The composition of the intestinal microflora may be different in individuals with atopic eczema from those without this condition, and such differences may precede the development of eczema. Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that benefit the host by selectively stimulating the growth or activity of non-pathogenic bacteria in the colon. Prebiotics (commonly oligosaccharides) added to infant feeds have the potential to prevent sensitisation of infants to dietary allergens.

Objectives

To determine the effect of prebiotics given to infants for the prevention of allergic disease or food hypersensitivity.

Search methods

This included searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (Issue 1, 2007), MEDLINE (1966 - February 2007), EMBASE, PREMEDLINE, abstracts of conference proceedings and citations of published articles, and expert informants.

Selection criteria

Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials that compared the use of a prebiotic to no prebiotic; or the use a specific prebiotic compared to a different prebiotic.

Data collection and analysis

Assessment of trial quality, data extraction and synthesis of data were performed using standard methods of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group.

Main results

Seven studies were eligible for inclusion. Only two studies reported an allergic disease outcome for 432 infants. Study quality was reasonable, although Moro 2006 reported 20% post-randomisation losses. Moro 2006 enrolled hydrolysed formula fed infants at high risk of allergy and reported a significant reduction in eczema in infants up to six months of age (RR 0.42, 95% CI 0.21, 0.84). Ziegler 2007 enrolled formula fed infants who were not selected on the basis of risk for allergy and reported no significant difference in eczema up to four months of age (RR 1.62, 95% CI 0.62, 4.26). Meta-analysis of the two studies found no significant difference in eczema, but significant heterogeneity was detected. Differences were potentially attributable to differences in infant risk, prebiotic formulation or measurement of eczema. Analysis of five studies reporting measures of infant growth found no consistent adverse effects.

Authors' conclusions

There is insufficient evidence to determine the role of prebiotic supplementation of infant formula for prevention of allergic disease and food hypersensitivity. One small trial of prebiotic oligosaccharides with excess losses reported a reduction in eczema in high risk formula fed infants. Further trials are needed to determine whether this finding persists over a longer period of time, applies to other manifestations of allergic disease, is associated with reductions in allergen sensitisation, and is reproducible.

Plain language summary

Prebiotics in infants for prevention of allergic disease and food hypersensitivity

There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of prebiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions. Reactions to foods and allergies (including asthma, eczema and hay fever) are common and may be increasing in developed countries. Many infants become sensitised to foods, including infant formula, through their gastrointestinal tract, a process that may be affected by the composition of the intestinal bacteria. Attempts to promote the growth of normal gastrointestinal bacteria and prevent sensitisation to foods have included the addition of prebiotics to infant formula. Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that help by selectively stimulating the growth or activity of 'healthy' bacteria in the colon. In formula fed infants at high risk of allergy, this review found one small trial that reported a mixture of prebiotic oligosaccharides added to infant formula reduced the incidence of eczema in infants up to six months of age. A second trial in low risk infants reported no difference in eczema. No consistent adverse effects were found on infant growth. Further studies are needed to confirm these results, and to determine if the effects persist beyond infancy or affect other manifestations of allergic disease.

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