Allergy and Immunology

Posted on Jul. 28th, 2011 at 4:30pm

A baby’s immune system must quickly develop defenses from the elements of its new environment as soon as it leaves the womb. Newly formed antibodies and immune factors from breast milk help protect infants from pathogens as they enter into the first months of life.

Mead Johnson’s Pediatric Nutrition Institute is actively researching the best ways that nutritional formulas can support the development of a healthy immune system.

Nutrition and Immune Function

Good nutrition plays an important role in supporting an infant’s immune system. For example, poor protein intake is associated with significantly impaired immunity, while inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals in the diet can have significant negative consequences for immune function.

Key vitamins that play a role in immunity include the fat-soluble vitamins A and E and the water-soluble vitamins C, B6, B12, and folate. Many minerals also play a role in immunity including iron, zinc and selenium.

A growing body of research, including many studies conducted by Mead Johnson’s Pediatric Nutrition Institute, indicates that certain types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), may also play a role in the immune system by reducing the inflammatory response that is common with conditions such as asthma, eczema, atopic dermatitis and food hypersensitivities.

Several studies have shown a relationship between mothers’ intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and a decrease in the risk of atopic dermatitis among their breastfed infants. Additionally, there are also a number of studies currently investigating the role that omega-3 supplementation in early life may play in reducing the development and progression of childhood asthma.

Mead Johnson currently offers a variety of nutritional formulas that are balanced to provide the appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals to support an infant’s developing immune system. Additionally, Mead Johnson’s Pediatric Nutrition Institute continues to actively support research to investigate the positive impact that DHA and ARA supplementation of nutritional formulas may have on an infant’s health.

Food Allergies and the Immune System

The immune system must achieve a fine balance between providing protection against infections, while at the same time maintaining “tolerance” to harmless items, such as commonly encountered nontoxic environmental factors.

Allergy results when there is a breakdown in normal tolerance mechanisms, which leads to inappropriate immune responses to normally harmless substances, including allergens to the proteins found in certain foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, nuts and shellfish.

One of the most common food allergies is cow’s milk allergy. The offending proteins come from cow’s milk formula or are passed along through breast milk from mothers who consume cow’s milk products.

Treatment for cow’s milk allergy involves removing cow’s milk from the infant’s diet. Mead Johnson has led the way in developing products that treat sensitivities for cow’s protein allergy for more than 60 years. The company offers a number of science-based pediatric nutritional formulas that are cow’s milk-free and that help to promote healthy growth and development in infants with food allergies. For example, Mead Johnson’s soy-based formula and extensively hydrolyzed formula provide allergen-free nourishment for these infants to give them the best start to life.

Type 1 Diabetes and Immunology

Mead Johnson is also leading research to better understand how nutrition may play a role in preventing the development of type 1 diabetes. Currently, researchers at Mead Johnson’s Pediatric Nutrition Institute are investigating how breastfeeding and formula feeding affect an infant’s autoantibodies, which are often associated with the appearance of type 1 diabetes. Researchers hope to confirm results from a pilot study demonstrating that certain infant feeding patterns can reduce autoantibody levels.

Through these studies and others, Mead Johnson is proud to be contributing to the scientific understanding of how best to support the development and maintenance of a healthy immune system.