Fonterra says a therapeutic product developed from dairy cultures has been shown to have significant long term benefits for children suffering from the allergic skin condition eczema.
The company says a previous trial of the probiotic showed it helped to halve the occurrence of eczema symptoms in children when they took it up to two years of age.
Now, a follow-up study by Otago University's Wellington Asthma Research Group has found that reduction in symptoms continues through to four years old, even though the children stopped taking the probiotic at two years.
Fonterra Nutrition senior research scientist Dr James Dekker says the results indicate that the probiotic may be able to modify the immune system early in a child's development, to deliver long term benefits with no discernable side effects.
"Whatever seems to be happening may be setting these kids up for life," says Dr Dekker.
We have to do more work ... but it's certainly bery encouraging that if we get things right, there may be lifelong benefits," he says.
Eczema affects about 1 in 5 children in New Zealand, and millions of children world wide.