Parents that have a baby at risk or allergies, asthma or type-1 Diabetes sometimes turn to hydrolyzed milk formulas in hopes of lowering their infant’s risk of developing these problems.
A new review of the data on hydrolyzed formulas finds that there is no evidence that they actually protect children from these types of autoimmune disorders.
"We found no consistent evidence to support a protective role for partially or extensively hydrolyzed formula," concluded a team 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," the study authors added.
In the study, Boyle's team looked at data from 37 studies that together included more than 19,000 participants and were conducted between 1946 and 2015.
The investigators found that infants who received hydrolyzed cow's milk formula did not have a lower risk of asthma, allergies (such as eczema, hay fever, food allergies) or type 1 diabetes compared to those who received human breast milk or a standard cow's milk formula.
The researchers also found no evidence to support an FDA-approved claim that a partially hydrolyzed formula could reduce the risk of the skin disorder eczema, or another conclusion that hydrolyzed formula could prevent an allergy to cow's milk.
Other experts in the United States said that the finding casts doubt on the usefulness of these kinds of specialized 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 Dr. Ron Marino, associate chair of pediatrics at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.
"Unfortunately, despite U.S. Food and Drug Administration support [for hydrolyzed formula], the data are not compelling," he said.
Dr. Punita Ponda is assistant chief of allergy and immunology at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. She stressed that when it comes to infant feeding, breast milk is by far the healthiest option.
However, "current mainstream guidelines for infant formula do recommend that parents consider using hypoallergenic formula if a close family member -- like an older brother or sister -- has a food allergy," she said. That was based on prior studies supporting some kind of protective effect, Ponda said.
Protein hydrolysate formulas were first introduced in the 1940s for babies who could not tolerate the milk protein in cow’s milk.
Protein hydrolyzed formulas are formulas composed of proteins that are partially broken down or “hydrolyzed.” They are also called hydrolysates.
There are two broad categories of protein hydrolysates:
• Partially hydrolyzed formulas (pHF)
• Extensively hydrolyzed formulas (eHF)
Both partially and extensively hydrolyzed protein formulas are based on casein or whey, which are proteins found in milk.
Hydrolyzed formulas have had the protein chains broken down into shorter and more easy-to -digest chains. The more extensively hydrolyzed the formula, the fewer potentially allergenic compounds remain.
Hydrolyzed formulas are also more expensive than regular cow’s milk formulas and often harder to find.
The researchers review was published March 08, 2016 in the BMJ.
Story sources: Robert Preidt, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20160308/special-infant-formulas-dont-shield-against-asthma-allergies-study
Victoria Groce, http://foodallergies.about.com/od/adultfoodallergies/p/hypoallergenic.htm