Cochrane Summaries

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Prebiotics in infants for prevention of allergic disease and food allergy

Osborn DA, Sinn JKH
Published Online: 
28 March 2013

There is some evidence that prebiotic added to infant formula may prevent eczema and asthma in infants. However, there is some concern about the reliability of the evidence due to not all trials reporting allergy outcomes and trials not reporting the outcome for all infants. Reactions to foods and allergies (including asthma, eczema and hay fever) are common and may be increasing. Many infants become sensitised to foods, including infant formula, through their gastrointestinal tract, a process that may be affected by the composition of the intestinal bacteria. Attempts to promote the growth of normal gastrointestinal bacteria and prevent sensitisation to foods have included the addition of prebiotic to infant formula. Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that help by selectively stimulating the growth or activity of 'healthy' bacteria in the colon. This review found some evidence that a prebiotic supplement added to infant feeds may prevent eczema in infants up to two years of age. It is unclear whether the use of prebiotic should be restricted to infants at high risk of allergy or may have an effect in low risk populations; or whether it may have an effect on other allergic diseases including asthma. However, further research is needed to confirm the findings before routine use of prebiotics can be recommended for prevention of allergy.