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Give cow's milk to newborns, you're having a giraffe?

I know I was blogging about KMC, but as this news flash was shared on a list I read; I felt I HAD to blog it.

The headline reads:
Cow’s milk good for newborns.
Mothers who feed their babies cow’s milk in the first 15 days of life may be protecting their children from dangerous allergies later on, says a new study.
Perplexed I read on:
Women who regularly (daily) introduced their babies to cow milk protein early, before 15 days of life, almost completely eliminated the incidence of allergy to cow milk protein in their babies.
 says Prof. Yitzhak Katz of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Pediatrics, Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

Before he is apparently quoted as saying in one article:
Although the exact amount is still unknown, the paediatrician suggests a single bottle-feed at night for those mothers who are breastfeeding.
Now perhaps I'm overly cynical, but at this point alarm bells started ringing.  Any paediatrician with a sound breastfeeding knowledge (which one would surely assume essential to make a public statement such as this) would know the well documented effects of cow's milk protein entering the gut of a breastfed baby.

Secondly, given they claim the exact amount is unknown, making a suggestion to "give a single bottle daily" is highly unusual; not least because it contradicts worldwide recommendations which are based on extensive evidence.

So I decided to dig out the study.

The first thing I noticed?  The bottom of the study reads:

Supported by the Israel Dairy Board.

Aaah now thing are becoming clearer.  I then discovered Prof Katz - the one up there making statements, has declared a potential conflict of interest. 

Y. Katz has received research support from the Israel Dairy Board

aaaaah, bingo!  Let's think who might benefit if mothers introduced a bottle of cow's milk per day- wouldn't happen to be the dairy industry would it?

Holey data Batman!

Having tracked down a full copy of the study, I set down for a proper read....

What's jumps out as immediately really quite worrying is how this research has been misreported.

Science daily reads:
Many doctors suggest that whole cow's milk be avoided in the early months of an infant's feeding.  But new research from Tel Aviv University says that mothers who feed their babies cow's milk in the first 15 days of life may be protecting their children from dangerous allergies later on.
But the research never mentions whole cow's milk - it is discussing standard cow's based breastmilk substitutes when it refers to exposure to cow's milk protein.  Given all recognised health bodies state whole milk is NOT suitable for infants under six months due to health implications - what are the risks of reporting such as this?

Anyway moving on, as I'm far from finished!

The thing to remember here is that out of 13,019 infants - 66 infants were given diagnoses of IgE-cows milk allergy, with 48 patients fulfilled all criteria.
 59 patients were on a soy diet on the first examination for a period ranging from 16 to 120 days (4 months)
6 were fed with extensively hydrolyzed milk
and 1 consumed an amino acid–based formula
Total: 66

So where are the allergic babies breastfed for six months as per all recommendations?  The gut closes around this time, preventing cow's milk protein entering the bloodstream and thus is very significant in terms of allergy analysis.  The longest any mothers were breastfeeding who had allergic children can only be four months, as all 66 were on some sort of breastmilk substitute at their examination. 

Oooh hang on, here we go - the lowest risk after the first 2 weeks is when it's introduced at 6-7 months.
We do not have data to substantiate an explanation as to why the risk for IgE-CMA decreased for those exposed in the oldest age group (group IV) compared with the prior period (group III).
So, when prof above was suggesting all mums give a bottle per day, he should surely have specified if not within two weeks, wait until six months.  Weirdly he didn't - but again, that obviously wouldn't be because the study was funded by the dairy industry!

I also find it quite strange that ALL allergic infants were on non bovine breastmilk substitutes at their first examination.  Surely if a mother exclusively breastfed for say 3 months, then introduced cow's milk protein and found her child was allergic - would she not just cut that supplement back out and return to breastfeeding?  Why are all by 4 months at the latest on a substitute?

Then we get down to the bones of the paper and realise all the reporting is actually very misleading.  Researchers were:
Conducting a large-scale prospective study analyzing Cow's Milk Allergy  that was exclusively IgE mediated 
To do this they used the skin prick method..

The UK Dairy Council States:
Skin tests: this involves using either a test lancet or needle, which is first pricked in the food and immediately afterwards in the skin. The value of this test is limited since it measures only IgE mediated reactions and thus will yield negative results in non IgE mediated allergic responses. 
So researchers really were only searching for IgE allergies, as reactions caused by other antibodies cannot be detected through skin prick tests.  But, um, what about all the babies with a non IgE mediated allergy?  Where do they fit in the "give a bottle a day prevents cow's milk allergy" plan?

IgE-mediated allergy is the one many of us have heard about; the immediate hypersensitivity reaction including: hives, swelling, vomiting or anaphylaxic shock.  The last reason being one stated as to why the study is important - yet many sources state this extreme reaction is rare with dairy allergy compared to other food allergies.

The problem is that Non IgE-mediated allergy is actually far far more common.  It primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes symptoms such as nausea, intestinal discomfort, diarrhoea and respiratory problems.  The damage to the tract results in a number of different allergic disorders including: gastroenteritis, milk-induced enterocolitis syndrome, proctocolitis syndrome, and allergic eosinophilic esophagitis.  These conditions can lead to pain, recurrent illness, poor growth, delayed development and failure to thrive.”

The British Medical Journal contains guidelines for the diagnosis and management of cow’s milk protein allergy in infants, so let's see what they say!

*clears throat*
Between 5% and 15% of infants show symptoms suggesting adverse reactions to cow’s milk protein (CMP),1 while estimates of the prevalence of cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) vary from 2% to 7.5%. Differences in diagnostic criteria and study design contribute to the wide range of prevalence estimates and underline the importance of an accurate diagnosis

Cow's Milk Protein Allergy may be immunoglobulin E (IgE) or non-IgE associated.
Whether breastfed or not, the guidelines go on to state:
Elimination diets and challenges are the gold standard for diagnosing CMPA
I wonder why researchers (supported by the dairy industry) might totally ignore more common non IgE cases?  hmmmm... oh no, wait!  Here it is:
In 381 cases the parents either complained about adverse effects that they considered CMP related, or alternatively, these parents avoided CMP exposure despite having discontinued exclusive or almost exclusive breast-feeding. A causal relationship between the complaint and CMP was ruled out in 244 cases among these infants.  In 71 cases, which will be described separately, a diagnosis of non–IgE-mediated adverse reaction to CMP was established
Right so where is the discussion about these infants?  how were they fed? How exactly did researchers rule out 244 cases and confirm 71 cases - did they use the BMA "gold standard".

All 381 parents of infants in whom an adverse reaction to CMP was suspected were interviewed by one of the investigators (N.R.), and their infants were invited for an examination
I guess that's a no then.  I can't find a single resource that claims non IgE allergy can be confirmed or denied by a chat and a physical exam!

In contrast to this study, two pieces of older research (not funded by the dairy industry) found that in susceptible families, breastfed babies can be sensitised to cow’s milk protein by the giving of just one bottle of bovine based formula in the first three days of life (Host, Husby & Osterballe)

Another found that when Serum IgE concentration was measured on the 5th day, high levels indicated a higher risk of developing allergic manifestations in formula-fed babies.  Family history was also significant. Manifestations suggestive of food allergy were hardly observed in breast-fed babies.  (Vandenplas & Sacre)
Ultimately, even if researchers really believe that exposure in the first two weeks could prevent rare IgE allergy; we know non IgE allergies are more common,  a lot harder to diagnose and cause conditions just as serious long-term.   Furthermore as discussed above, the gut of an infant changes with the introduction of bovine protein, increasing risks of a much wider range of conditions.  To suggest infants be given a bottle of cow's milk on the basis of this one study, is not only irresponsible, but really quite scary!


  1. wow. totally appalled at the bad science and worse reporting.

  2. One thing I want to point out though, is that I think the scientist is trying to study immune tolerance, and cow's milk allergy is just his way of getting at that question, but is not necessarily his primary interest. That is also why he is choosing to follow only IgE mediated CMA. Many immunologists support delaying introduction of allergens in order to decrease allergy risk, but there is also a camp who believes that *very* early introduction of an allergen through a mucosal pathway could also decrease allergy risk (IgE mediated) by inducing tolerance. Studying this in humans is tricky though, for ethical reasons. Study of CMA through formula introduction is one way to try to get at this question ethically in human subjects. Unfortunately, I think that there are numerous serious flaws in this study. But I think I can understand the basic premise of what he's trying to do.

    Here were my thoughts on the same study:

  3. Sigh. Why was this study even allowed to be published?

  4. QUOTE Many immunologists support delaying introduction of allergens in order to decrease allergy risk, but there is also a camp who believes that *very* early introduction of an allergen through a mucosal pathway could also decrease allergy risk (IgE mediated) by inducing tolerance.

    But it all seems rather a moot point to me? Even if they were absolutely right that introduction prevented IgE allergy - when you look at the way it impacts on other areas of health, the risks of allergy are miniscule in comparison. Ditto the ignoring non IgE allergies!

    I could have covered other flaws in the study, design etc but as the article was already long enough - decided I had to stop somewhere lol

  5. I really feel so sorry for the parents and babies out there who will surely physically and emotionally suffer due to this really poor, and morally wrong report. It should be illegal to do this, and it should be punishable severely. It is child abuse and emotional abuse of parents. An abuse of power. I wish there was more done to protect innocent people!