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Experts warn baby formula guidelines need to be changed

Scientists say there is no consistent evidence certain formulas prevent allergies or autoimmune conditions.

Image: Shutterstock/Nicolesa

EXPERTS HAVE CALLED for infant feeding guidelines to be revised as certain baby milk formulas don’t appear to protect against allergies or autoimmune disorders.

Scientists have said international guidelines should stop recommending hydrolysed formulas as there is “no consistent evidence” they prevent allergic or autoimmune conditions.

The protein in hydrolysed formula is broken down so babies with an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk can digest it.

Current infant feeding guidelines – including those in Europe, North America and Australasia – recommend hydrolysed cow’s milk formula, in place of standard infant formula, to prevent such diseases in infants during the first months of life.

However, researchers at Imperial College London have found no consistent evidence that partially or extensively hydrolysed milk formula prevents allergic or autoimmune diseases.

The research, which has been published in the British Medical Journal, analysed 37 trials with over 19,000 participants, undertaken between 1946-2015.

The effects of hydrolysed cow’s milk was compared with another hydrolysed formula, human breast milk, and a standard cow’s milk formula.

The conditions monitored included asthma, eczema, conjunctivitis, food allergies, and the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes.

“Our findings conflict with current international guidelines, in which hydrolysed formula is widely recommended for young formula-fed infants with a family history of allergic disease,” the authors stated.

Researchers also found no evidence to support the claim approved by the US Food and Drug Administration that a partially hydrolysed formula could reduce the risk of eczema.

Breastfeeding is the most recommended way of feeding newborns and infants but is not possible for all mothers. For women in Ireland who use formula, the HSE notes that their midwife or public health nurse will provide information. They state that cow’s milk is not suitable for babies under one year of age as it is a poor source of iron.

More research needed

Responding to the study, researchers at the University of Melbourne wrote an editorial stating:

While experts might recognise the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of hydrolysed formulas in prevention of allergies, it seems that these formulas are currently recommended in the hope that they might prevent allergic disease and on the basis that they are unlikely to do any harm.

They said this can unwittingly undermine efforts to promote breastfeeding and attempts to conduct more definitive research on this issue, and hinders efforts by formula producers to improve products.

“It is now time for this evidence to be used for updating and clarifying current recommendations and guidelines … We encourage industry to pursue development of effective allergy-reducing infant formulas.”

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Órla Ryan

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