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EARLY LIFE NUTRITION

Immunity and Allergy

Developing immunity

A strong, balanced immune system acts as a first line of defence. During pregnancy an infant is protected by their mother’s antibodies which travel across the placenta. This is known as 'passive' immunity. 

After birth, 60-70% of immune cells are located in the gut. However an infant's immune system is immature and takes time to develop, which can make them particularly vulnerable during their first few years of life.

Immunity and nutrition

Breast milk provides the best nutrition for an infant's developing immune system. It contains antibodies and immune-boosting substances which pass on passive immunity to help protect infants against many potential diseases (gastrointestinal and respiratory).

Immunity and allergy

The incidence of allergy is increasing. An infant’s developing immune system may respond inappropriately to a newly introduced substance which may result in an allergic reaction. The symptoms of an allergic reaction can be broad ranging from diarrhoea or wheezing to eczema and can be distressing for both the infant and their families. However studies show that allergies may potentially be prevented by making the right nutritional choices in the first 1,000 days.

Cow’s Milk Allergy

Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is the most common food allergy in early childhood, affecting 2-5% of infants. When an infant has CMA their immune system over reacts to one or more proteins contained in cow's milk. The babies’ immune system recognizes these proteins as harmful and to protect itself releases natural defence substances, such as histamines, which cause allergic symptoms in the baby. An allergic reaction is often the first sign that something is going wrong with the immune system so it is important to prevent or treat CMA by providing the right nutritional support.

Being able to nutritionally support a baby’s digestive and immune system is important for their growth and development, therefore learning more about the interaction between nutrition and the immune system is crucial. At Nutricia we continually invest in this area, collaborating extensively with both national and international academic partners, to further our understanding of the link between nutrition and immunity.