Mothers who drink organic milk during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can help their babies beat eczema, asthma and related allergies, according to ground-breaking research.
The study suggests the conditions can also be kept at bay if children drink organic milk themselves. Researchers conclude that “the consumption of organic dairy products, within the context of an organic diet, is associated with the … reduced incidence of eczema”.
There are growing concerns about the increasing prevalence of conditions such as eczema and asthma worldwide, especially in westernised countries. It is estimated that one-third of children in western societies show symptoms; in the UK there are fears that more children are being affected as a result of pollution and traffic fumes.
Researchers working on the Koala (a Dutch acronym for Child, Parent and Health: Lifestyle and Genetic Constitution) birth cohort study, which started in 2000, said research evaluating the health benefits of organic and conventionally grown foods was long overdue.
They pointed out: “A rapidly growing group of consumers in our society prefers to buy organically grown and processed
products, which are perceived as healthier and safer. However, there are virtually no studies of any size that have evaluated effects of organic versus conventionally grown foods on human health.”
The researchers suggest mothers who drink organic milk can produce breast milk which provides some protection or immunity against allergens. They measured organic food consumption, eczema and wheeze in infants until the age of two,
using repeated questionnaires completed by their parents at key dates. Diet was defined as conventional (less than 50% organic), moderately organic (50-90%) and strictly organic (more than 90%).
The researchers said the influences of the mothers’ and infants’ organic diets were inextricably linked: “We cannot exclude the possibility that the lower risk of eczema in children who used organic dairy products was actually due to a high consumption of organic dairy products by the mother, conferring protection already starting in the intra-uterine period and during lactation.”
They also acknowledged earlier studies showing , allergies and asthma are lower in children from families which eat organic food, use few antibiotics and aspirin, and where children are breastfed for longer.
Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: “It is extremely significant that we have, for the first time, published significant research on this important area. Common sense tells us that it is healthier and kinder to the environment to consume organic food. What is nice is that we are now seeing science catching up.”