Study: Nearly 70 years of data found no protective effect
Parents, worried their baby may develop asthma, allergies or type 1 diabetes, turn to special cow’s milk formulas that promise to lower the risk. A new study, however, upends those promises.
“We found no consistent evidence to support a protective role for partially or extensively hydrolyzed formula,” said a team of experts led by Robert Boyle of Imperial College London in England. “Our findings conflict with current international guidelines, in which hydrolyzed formula is widely recommended for young formula-fed infants with a family history of allergic disease.”
One expert in the United States added the team’s finding questions the usefulness of these special formula products. “Allergies and autoimmune diseases [such as asthma and type 1 diabetes] are on the rise, and it would be nice if we did have a clear route to preventing them,” said Ron Marino, M.D., associate chair of pediatrics at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York. “Unfortunately, despite U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] support [for hydrolyzed formula], the data are not compelling.”
According to the British researchers, many infant feeding guidelines—including those from North America, Europe, Australia and Aasia—recommend hydrolyzed cow’s milk formula instead of standard infant formula to prevent autoimmune disorders during the first months of life. But the researchers found no consistent evidence to support the guidelines.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from 37 studies included more than 19,000 participants and were conducted between 1946 and 2015. The research showed infants who received hydrolyzed cow’s milk formula did not have a lower risk of asthma, allergies (such as food allergies, eczema and hay fever) or type 1 diabetes compared to those who received human breast milk or a standard cow’s milk formula.
So what do researchers recommend? Dr. Marino and Punita Ponda, M.D., assistant chief of allergy and immunology at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, both say human breast milk is best.
“It is interesting that this [review] also finds conflict-of-interest and bias in many of the published studies” that support the effectiveness of hydrolyzed formulas, Dr. Marino said. “Most kids will have their best shot at a healthy life being raised on human breast milk.”
Dr. Ponda agreed, adding that “the current recommendations might need to be revised. Even if there is no harm in using these formulas, they are often more costly and harder to find in the grocery stores.” When it comes to infant feeding, she said, breast milk is by far the healthiest option.