New Zealand dairy co-operative Fonterra has presented what it claims is significant research showing that its proprietary probiotic strains reduce childhood disease and childhood allergy rates, while the addition of dairy lipids to formula aids infant cognitive development.
Speaking at the 16th Congress of Paediatricians in Moscow, Fonterra researcher Dr. James Dekker presented a clinical trial due to be published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, against the backdrop of increasing incidences of eczema in Europe.
The study followed 425 infants until 2 years of age, and indicated that consumption of Fonterra’s trademarked Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 (DR20) probiotic strain reduced eczema prevalence by 45% and the severity of symptoms by 41%.
At a four-year follow-up, Fonterra said the DR20 group continued to show a reduced prevalence of eczema compared to infants in the placebo group, two years after stopping the supplementation.
Gut and immune function
Dekker also presented a study involving 312 children aged 1-3 years, which examined the combined effects of Fonterra’s Bifidobacterium animalissubspecies lactis HN019 (DR10) probiotic strain and prebiotic galacto-olichosaccharide (GOS) in regard to gut and immune function benefits.
At the two-year follow-up, the group fed milk enriched with DR10 and GOS “demonstrated reduced disease risks across a range of childhood morbidities, including dysentery, pneumonia and severe-acute lower respiratory infections, compared to the control group fed fortified milk,” Fonterra said.
One of the company’s researchers in the field of ‘bioactive dairy lipids’, Dr. Paul McJarrow, also presented a recent Indonesian pilot study (currently in press) by Gurnida et al., ‘Association of Complex Lipids Containing Gangliosides with Cognitive Development of Six-Month Old Infants’.
Gurnida et al. concluded that adding gangliosides (contained in human breastmilk and linked to infant neurodevelopment) to infant formula – by adding complex dairy lipids – resulted in improved cognitive development scores for participants, compared to infants fed standard formula.
Cognitive development scores
30 infants were fed standard infant formula from 2-8 weeks until 24 weeks of age (the control group) while 29 received the same formula supplemented with milk lipid to increase ganglioside content to around 11-12μg/ml; a reference group comprised breast-fed infants.
Statistically significant results showed that ganglioside supplementation using complex milk lipids significantly increased ganglioside serum levels (against control) and resulted in “significant increases” in hand-eye coordination IQ, performance IQ and General IQ test scores, measured using Griffith instruments.
Cognitive development scores and serum ganglioside levels for the treatment group did not differ from the reference or breast milk group.
Gurnida et al. said their study was the first using in healthy normal infants who were not able to be breastfed, to investigate the cognitive benefits of increasing ganglioside intake via a complex milk lipid-fortified infant formula.
“While it is difficult to attribute the observed cognitive development benefits in the present study to increases in gangliosides alone, the impact of ganglioside supplementation on serum levels supports the hypothesis that the level of ganglioside intake is important,” they wrote.
Despite a small number of trial participants, the team said that the pilot study findings were “sufficiently compelling” to warrant further investigation and confirmation through larger studies.
McJarrow said that, while fat or lipids constituted around one third of the total solid ingredients of breast milk and infant formula, most commercially available infant formulas did not contain milk fat globule membrane proteins and bioactive dairy lipids at the same level as human milk.
The principle challenge in incorporating these ingredients into infant formula was maintaining their bioactivity, according to McJarrow; Fonterra said it had developed gentle processing techniques to achieve this result.
The firm said its complex dairy lipids provided protection against infections and assisted cognitive development, and McJarrow said: “While there is no question that breast milk is the best form of food for newborns and infants, some mothers are unable to breastfeed for medical or other reasons.
“That’s why it’s important they have access to safe and nutritious alternatives offering nutritional benefits as close as possible to those provided by human milk.”
McJarrow added that – via two in-vitro studies – Fonterra had confirmed the anti-rotavirus activity (the virus is a common cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children) of its complex dairy lipids, showing “around a 50% reduction in the number of cells infected with rotavirus”.