Yoghurt in the first year of life may help to prevent eczema

28 March 2018
child with yoghurt all over its face

Yoghurt given to infants in the first year of life may protect them from developing eczema and allergy, researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington, and the University of Auckland have found.

The effects are striking says Dr Julian Crane from the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, who led the Health Research Council-funded study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy this week.

“We found up to 70 per cent reduction in eczema and allergy in the first year of life for daily consumers,” Dr Crane says. “The more regularly yoghurt was given, the greater the effect.”

The study involved 390 mothers in Wellington and Auckland who were asked about various foods they gave to their infants in the first year of life and the infants were seen regularly for signs of eczema and had a skin prick test for allergy at one year.

The researchers say the results should encourage parents to consider feeding their infants yoghurt, especially if they are worried about a risk of eczema or allergic disease.

Full fat, plain, unsweetened yoghurt is already recommended by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and other groups for infants from 6 months of age as an excellent food. The researchers believe this finding about allergy protection in infants eating yoghurt may provide an added benefit.

“We found that regular consumption of yoghurt gave stronger protection, but what we don’t know yet, is what type of yoghurt is best or how much is protective,” Dr Crane cautions.

The researchers also do not know whether the effect will last into later childhood.

“In addition, our study does not provide ‘proof’ that it is the yoghurt that is responsible. This would require a trial in which some infants get yoghurt and some don’t. No such trial has yet been done,” says Dr Crane.

“What we have found is an ‘association’ – i.e. infants who were fed yoghurt had less eczema and were less likely to be allergic. At least two other things could explain this.”
These are, that parents who give yoghurt to their infants also do other things that might be reducing the chances of allergies that the researchers are not aware of.

Or, if parents whose children are at increased risk of eczema and allergy deliberately avoid yoghurt, this may make it appear that yoghurt is giving protection.

“We don’t think this is the case, but only a trial where parents can’t choose yoghurt could prove this,” Dr Crane explains.

In the meantime, plain unsweetened yoghurt is recommended for infants from 6 months of age as it may reduce allergies.