Exposing pregnant mothers and children to probiotic bacteria boosts their immune systems and may stop them developing allergies, scientists have said.
Researchers studied 1,223 women with a history of allergies or a partner who suffered from them and gave the women probiotic or placebo doses each day while they were eight months pregnant.
The 925 children of the women who stayed in study were then given the same doses every day for six months.
Doctors examined the children at three, six and 24 months, looking to diagnose allergies.
Key proteins which boost the immune system were found to be 50% higher on average in the blood of probiotic-treated infants than in placebo-treated infants, the doctors found.
Probiotic children were also 30% less likely than their untreated counterparts to develop an itchy skin condition known as atopic eczema, often an early sign of vulnerability to allergies.
Immunologist Anthony Horner, from the University of California in San Diego, said that in the past people ate food loaded with bacteria and developed immunity to cope with it.
He said: “These probiotics are probably closely mimicking the effects of regularly eating unpasteurised and unsterilised food.”
The study, carried out at the University of Helsinki in Finland, is featured on newscientist.com.
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