About 2% of children aged 0-2 years suffer from cow’s milk allergy. Most children spontaneously outgrow this allergy. Still, for these young children, cow’s milk allergy is still an issue to the importance of milk for supplying the nutrients they need. In this blog, I will explain a now potential approach to help children outgrow their cow’s milk allergy faster.
First some background information. Milk contains two groups of proteins, caseins (the basis of cheese) and whey proteins. Proteins have a three-dimensional structure. The immune system does not recognise a whole protein, but parts (often related to the three-dimensional structure), which is called an epitope. All different milk proteins can cause an allergy reaction, making cow’s milk allergy a complex allergy that can differ a lot between children.
During industrial milk processing, milk is being heated to kill possible pathogens. During heating, whey proteins can change their three-dimensional structure. This may also change the epitopes, which may change the allergic reaction (which can both increase or decrease the response).
Besides regular heating of milk, milk can also be used in baked products (e.g. muffins or pizza). This can be called “baked milk”. From research on such products, it appears that these products often do not cause an allergic response (e.g. 75% of cases). Besides a reduced allergenic response, it also seems that children consuming baked milk outgrow that cow milk allergy faster than children that completely avoid milk protein.
Although there is already a lot of knowledge on baked milk, more research is needed before practical applications can be developed. In a collaborative research project between the Erasmus Medical Center and Wageningen University, we will study the functionality of baked milk proteins in more detail. This research aims at both increasing basic knowledge on how changes to milk proteins influence the response of the immune system, both regarding the development of an allergy as well as the outgrowing of an existing allergy. In addition, we will also do a clinical study in which this basic knowledge will be tested in children with cow’s milk allergy.
The outcomes of this new research may lead to new knowledge that can help both in strategies to prevent the development of cow’s milk allergy as well as strategies to speed up the process of outgrowing it once it has developed.
Kasper Hettinga, March 2018