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Probiotics and the ‘Allergy Free’ Child

Malaghan Institute of Medical ResearchIt sounds too simple to be true. Take a probiotic in pregnancy and protect your unborn child against eczema and possibly other allergic diseases, such as asthma and hay fever.

Caroline Wood reports on ground-breaking New Zealand research.

Wellington mum Amber Parry Strong’s youngest child had eczema from the age of three months until he turned one. Amber still remembers the huge impact it had on the family - trying to control the itchy rash with hydrocortisone cream, moisturisers and bath oils.

Amber, 34, decided to take part in a New Zealand trial to see if taking a daily dose of probiotics during pregnancy can protect children from developing eczema and other allergies as they grow up.

The mum-of-two, who is allergic to cats, grass and dust mites, said: “Our family’s experience made me aware of eczema and so when I heard about the trial I thought I would give it a go and if it doesn’t help my baby, it might help other people’s children.”

Amber is one of hundreds of pregnant mothers being recruited for the trial. Each volunteer will take a single capsule each day, starting when 14 to 16 weeks pregnant and continuing throughout the remainder of their pregnancy and for six months after birth while breast feeding.

Half the participants will take capsules containing the study probiotic – a particular strain of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus. The other half will receive a placebo.

Researchers want to see if probiotics taken early in pregnancy can protect an unborn child by ‘turning off’ the baby’s immune response in the womb. The study will also look at whether probiotics protect mothers from gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs only in pregnancy, and some vaginal infections involving potentially dangerous bacteria, such as Group B Strep.

Many studies have shown that allergic disease can progress from eczema to other allergic diseases – a phenomenon known as the ‘allergic march’. Researchers hope that by switching off the skin allergy (eczema) in infancy, it may protect the child from going on to develop other allergic diseases as they get older.

Volunteers needed for probiotic trial

Researchers are looking for 400 pregnant women in Wellington and Auckland to take part in the trial. Women taking part in the study should be less than 16 weeks pregnant. One or both parents need to have a history of allergy (eczema, asthma or hay fever).

For more information see www.otago.ac.nz/probiotic.
You can contact 0800 NOALLERGY or email probiotics@otago.ac.nz to register your interest.

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Issue: Spring 2013