Probiotic reduces eczema in children

Dairy company Fonterra believes a probiotic it has developed from dairy cultures offers significant long term benefits to children suffering from the skin condition eczema.

The condition affects around one in five children in New Zealand, and has reported childhood prevalance rates of up to 20.5 per cent in some countries.

Fonterra Nutrition said a previous trail showed Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 helped reduce the occurence of eczema symptoms in children by almost 50 per cent when they took the probiotic up until two years of age.

Now a follow-up study published in the international journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy (ii) has shown this reduction in symptoms continues through to four years, even though the children stopped taking the probiotic at two.

Fonterra Nutrition senior research scientist James Dekker said the results indicate the probiotic may be able to modify the immune system early in a child's development to deliver long-term benefits with no discernable side effects.

''The long term benefits.....are extremely encouraging and are particularly relevant in New Zealand which has one of the highest incidence rates of eczema in the world,'' Dekker said.

The study was carried out by Otago University's Wellington Asthma Research Group, and funded by the New Zealand Health Research Council and Fonterra.

The follow-up study is part of a long-term clinical trial that started by giving probiotic bacteria or placebo to pregnant women two-to-five weeks from birth.

Following birth, the mothers continued with the supplementation for up to six months if breastfeeding, while their babies received the supplementation from birth to two years of age.Further research looking into the probiotic's effect after six years is due to be released early next year.

Fonterra is New Zealand's biggest company and the world's biggest dairy exporter.