Quite often, we receive calls from families who are distraught and worried after trying five or six different infant formulas that their child with food allergies was not able to tolerate before finding Neocate (an amino acid-based formula). Often, the formulas they tried in the past were hydrolysate formulas (such as Alimentum, Nutramigen and Pregestimil), which are labeled as hypoallergenic. So I often hear the question. “If this formula is hypoallergenic, why didn’t it work for my baby with food allergies?”
In order to answer this question, I’ll need to explain exactly what a hydrolysate formula is and how they differ from elemental or amino acid-based formulas. The main difference is: hydrolysate formulas have milk proteins in them! Amino acid-based or elemental formulas, like Neocate, are 100% milk-free and made up of non allergenic amino acids (the building blocks of protein) so there is a very slim chance of a child having an allergic reaction to them.
The reason hydrolysate formulas can say they are hypoallergenic is because the milk proteins they use in the formulas are broken down (or hydrolyzed) so that the body’s immune system may not detect the proteins as being an allergen. But with the number of calls we get from families in distress over their little one not tolerating the hydrolysate formula, I can tell you that it is not always the fix all for a child facing food allergies. This is where an elemental or amino acid-based formula comes in. It is sometimes stated that amino acid-based formulas are “super” hypoallergenic compared with hydrolysate formulas. This basically means amino acid-based formulas are more hypoallergenic than hydrolysate formulas.
In general, studies show that amino acid-based formulas are tolerated by 98% of severely allergic babies. Although many food allergy babies tolerate hydrolysate formulas, there is a subset that do not - often showing with symptoms like severe diarrhea, vomiting, rashes and failure to thrive.
A relatively recent study demonstrates the intolerance concern with hydrolysate formulas by stating that “there are clinical benefits from the use of amino acid-based formulas in both symptoms and growth in infants and children with cow’s milk allergy who fail to tolerate extensively hydrolyzed formula”1. Another study showed that up to 30% of babies with food allergies did not tolerate the hydrolysate formula2. This is important to know especially if your little one (or someone else’s infant) is still having food allergy related symptoms and is currently using a hydrolysate formula.
Did your child not tolerate a hydrolyzed formula? What did you do?
1 Hill DJ, The efficacy of amino acid based formula in relieving the symptoms of cows milk allergy-A systematic review. Clin Exp Allergy. 2007.
2 Latcham et al, A consistent pattern of minor immunodeficiency and subtle enteropathy in children with multiple food allergy. J Pediatr. 2003.
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