A probiotic bacteria developed by Fonterra has shown signs of being effective in making children immune to eczema, the dairy co-operative says.
Probiotics - a field that has been developed over the past 30 years - is based on the idea that there are good and bad types of bacteria in the gut.
Fonterra said the bacteria - lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 - was shown in a previous trial to help reduce the occurrence of eczema symptoms in children by almost 50 per cent when they took the probiotic up to age 2.
A follow-up study published in the international journal, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, had shown that this reduction in symptoms continued through to 4 years old, even though the children stopped taking the probiotic at 2 years of age.
Fonterra Nutrition senior research scientist James Dekker said the results indicated that the bacteria, developed from dairy cultures, may be able to modify the immune system early in a child's development, to deliver long-term benefits with no discernable side effects.
"The general perception is that we have a very promising trial and it's really good that it has been able to show these effects over a number of years," he said.
Eczema affects millions of children worldwide, with around half the cases being diagnosed before the age of 1. Dekker said the results were particularly relevant in New Zealand, which has one of the highest incidence rates of eczema in the world.
The study was carried out by the University of Otago's Wellington Asthma Research Group, with funding provided by the New Zealand Health Research Council and Fonterra.
Professor Julian Crane, one of the study's authors, said the latest findings showed the probiotic had a long-term protective effect
Further research on the probiotic, looking into its effect after six years, is due for release early next year.