Probiotics or 'friendly' bacteria given to babies during weaning may help alleviate the symptoms of eczema, according to research published in the British journal Gut.
Researchers led by Pirkka Kirjavainen of the Department of Biochemistry and Food Chemistry at the University of Turku in Finland, studied 21 infants who already had evidence of atopic (allergic) eczema, and were at heightened risk for chronic allergic disease.
When the babies were weaned onto hydrolysed whey formula feed, eight of them reacted adversely to it. Among the remaining 13, seven were fed the formula supplemented with probiotic bacteria - Bifidobacterium lactis - and six were fed unsupplemented formula.
Stool samples were taken from the eight highly reactive babies before weaning, while the rest of the babies provided stool samples before and after weaning.
The eight highly reactive babies had greater numbers of 'unfriendly' bacteria in their stool samples than the 13 babies who did not react to the formula feed.
To gauge the allergic response in all the babies, IgE levels were measured, and these were found to directly corresponded to the levels of Escherichia coli, bacteria that can cause infection in this age group, and the numbers of bacteroides species (unfriendly bacteria) in the highly reactive babies.
Although the finding has yet to be verified, the researchers suggest that these organisms are implicated in the development of an allergic response, possibly by causing changes in the gut ecosystem.
Supplementation of formula feed with probiotic bacteria significantly reduced the numbers of E coli bacteria and prevented an increase in the numbers of bacteroides during weaning. Probiotic supplementation, said the authors, might help alleviate the allergic (inflammatory) response in babies during weaning.