A nutritional supplement combining pre- and probiotics may help prevent asthma in children with atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema.
In the first study of its kind, scientists have uncovered clues about how the health of the gut might affect immune system health to halt the progression of allergic conditions.
Itchy, wheezy, sneezy
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory, itching skin disorder that often starts during infancy. Up to 40% of children affected by atopic dermatitis will go on to develop asthma later in childhood.
The prevalence of allergic diseases (including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and allergic rhinitis) has increased over the past several decades. It’s been suggested that changes in the intestinal flora—that is, the “good” bugs that reside on your insides—could be responsible for the observed jump in these conditions.
It starts in the gut
Probiotics like acidophilus are living microorganisms with beneficial effects in the gut and throughout the body. They can help
- boost immune function,
- increase resistance to infection,
- inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria,
- and promote healthy digestion.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients, such as fructooligosaccharides, that provide fuel for probiotics to thrive on. Since pre- and probiotics work synergistically, together they are referred to as synbiotics.
Researchers from the Netherlands investigated the effect of a formula supplemented with synbiotics on 90 infants with atopic dermatitis. The aim of the study was to see if synbiotics could help prevent children with atopic dermatitis from developing asthma-like symptoms and the need for asthma medications.
- For 12 weeks, the babies were either given a hydrolyzed whey formula with the probiotic Bifidobacterium brevis and the prebiotics GOS (galactooligosaccharides) and FOS (fructooligosaccharides), or a placebo formula without the synbiotics.
- They underwent blood test for allergies, including those to cats, dogs, and dust mites at the beginning of the study and after one year.
- Parents kept tabs on their children’s respiratory symptoms and reported them to the investigators.
Of the 75 children who completed the study, children in the synbiotic group were 20% less likely to have frequent wheezing and 28% less likely to have wheezing and/or noisy breathing during the follow up period than were children in the placebo group. Babies who received the synbiotic-enriched formula were also much less likely to have to start taking asthma medications. Over the course of the study, 15% of children in the placebo group developed an allergy to cats, whereas none of the children in the synbiotic group did.
“These results suggest that this synbiotic mixture prevents asthma-like symptoms,” said lead author of the study, Leontien B. van der Aa of Emma Children’s Hospital in Amsterdam. “The infants that were included in our study will be followed up to age five to six, when they are old enough to determine whether this synbiotic mixture also prevents the development of asthma.”