Division of Nutrition

American Society for Nutrition Symposium

Breastfeeding and Atopic Disease

April 30, 2007
Washington, DC

There has been an increased interest in breastfeeding in developed and developing countries during the last decade as a trend toward a healthier lifestyle. Physicians, investigators, and the public are seeking “evidence-based” verification that breastfeeding can prevent the expression of disease. A major health problem in developed countries worldwide is a striking increase in atopic disease during infancy and early childhood.

One popular explanation, called “the hygiene hypothesis”, has been used to explain this change in disease expression where inadequate colonization of the newborn gut occurs. Colonization acts as a stimulus to the appropriate development of intestinal immune defenses in the newborn to prevent allergic reactions to the introduction of foreign food antigens. Breastfeeding provides both active and passive protection to the vulnerable newborn against infections and inflammatory diseases and contains oligosaccharides, which stimulate an increase in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (colonizing bacteria). What role does breastfeeding play in the prevention of allergic reactions (another immune-mediated process)?

This symposium reviews the role of breastfeeding in the prevention of allergy in normal and allergy-prone neonates. Epidemiologic and clinical studies to support or refute its role are reviewed and presented and evidence to support the potential or actual mechanisms for prevention are considered. As a result, possible recommendations for considering breastfeeding in the prevention of food allergy will be made or new studies suggested to definitively promote its uses.

No Webcast recording is avaialble for this event.


Introduction and Overview

W. Allan Walker, MD
Conrad Taff Professor of Nutrition & Professor of Pediatrics
Harvard Medical School
Director, Mucosal Immunology Laboratory
Massachusetts General Hospital for Children

Does Breastfeeding Protect Against Allergies:
Pros and Cons (Clinical/Epidemiological Studies)

Renate L. Bergmann, MD
Klinik fur Gerburtsmedizin
Charite Virchow Hospital
Humboldt University

The Role of Prolonged and Exclusive Breastfeeding in the Development
of Asthma and Allergies: New Evidence From a Large Randomized Trial

Michael S. Kramer, MD
Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology & Biostatistics
Science Director, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health
The Montreal Children’s Hospital

Meta-Analysis of Clinical/Epidemiological Studies in Breast Milk and Allergy

Wendy Oddy, PhD, MPH
NHMRC Population Health Research Fellow
Telethon Institute for Child Health Research
Curtin University of Technology
The University of Western Australia

Mechanisms of Breast Milk Protection Against Allergy

W. Allan Walker, MD
Conrad Taff Professor of Nutrition & Professor of Pediatrics
Harvard Medical School
Director, Mucosal Immunology Laboratory
Massachusetts General Hospital for Children


Presented by
Harvard Medical School
Division of Nutrition
and the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation
Made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from
Mead Johnson Nutritionals,
Nestle Nutrition,
Ross Nutrition and
Wyeth Nutrition