Probiotic Use and Eczema, Asthma Prevention: No Conclusive Evidence

AUGUST 09, 2017
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor
A study published in Pediatrics found no conclusive evidence to support the use of probiotics to prevent eczema and asthma in high-risk infants.1

In the study, researchers from UC San Francisco examined the effect of probiotic use among children receiving it for the first 6 months of life, and compared the results to those who did not receive probiotics. The goal of the study was to determine whether probiotic use lessened the risk of asthma and eczema, which frequently precedes asthma. The infants in the study all were at a high risk of developing asthma due to 1 or both parents having the condition.

Out of the 184 newborn infants examined, half received capsules of the probiotic while the second group received placebo capsules. The researchers did not find any significant differences between the 2 groups. At age 2, 31% of the placebo recipients were diagnosed with eczema, versus 28.7% in the probiotic group.

The researchers conducted a follow-up study as the children reached 5 years of age to determine whether probiotic use had impacted diagnoses of eczema and asthma. Although fewer children were diagnosed with asthma in the probiotic group, just 27 patients received the diagnosis. The researchers concluded that the number was too low to make any findings clinically meaningful.

The high incidence of breastfeeding in the study was suggested as a possible factor. The researchers indicated that the large percentage of breastfeeding may have overshadowed the potential protective effects of probiotics, since breastfeeding provides its own protective effects.

The researchers noted that research by other scientists had determined that there were significantly fewer microbes in the stool samples of infants that later developed asthma. 

“There is a growing body of evidence that suggests differences in microbial exposure in intestinal microbes in early infancy are related to differences in the development of immune function, and thus in the risk for developing allergies and asthma,” co-senior author Homer Boushey, MD, of the UCSP Department of Medicine, said in a press release about the study.2

Dr. Boushey added that researchers do not know which bacteria is the most beneficial and how to best introduce them to infants, and concluded that the study suggests the feasibility of introducing one potentially beneficial microbe. However, the study results demonstrate no clear evidence to support early probiotic supplementation for the prevention of asthma or eczema in children at high risk.

Reference
  1. Cabana MD, McKean M, Caughey AB, et al. Early probiotic supplementation for eczema and asthma prevention: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2017.
  1. Gut feeling for probiotics benefits may be overstated, UCSF study shows [news release’. UCSF’s website. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2017/08/407971/gut-feeling-probiotics-benefits-may-be-overstated-ucsf-study-shows. Accessed August 8, 2017.


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