Yoghurt given to infants in their first year could protect them from developing eczema and allergy, New Zealand researchers have found.
Dr Julian Crane, who led the study, which involved 390 mothers in Wellington and Auckland, says the effects are striking.
"We found up to 70 percent reduction in eczema and allergy in the first year of life for daily consumers," he said.
"The more regularly yoghurt was given, the greater the effect."
The study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, was conducted by researchers at Otago University in Wellington and Auckland University.
The mothers were asked about the food they gave to their infants, who were seen regularly for signs of eczema and were tested for allergy at one year.
Full fat, plain, unsweetened yoghurt is already recommended by the NZ Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and other groups as a food for infants from six months of age.
The researchers believe their findings may provide an added benefit.
However, Dr Crane cautioned that, while the study found that regular consumption of yoghurt gave stronger protection, what was not yet known was what type of yoghurt was best or how much was protective.
The researchers also did not know whether the effect would last into later childhood.
"In addition, our study does not provide 'proof' that it is the yoghurt that is responsible," Dr Crane said.
"This would require a trial in which some infants get yoghurt and some don't. No such trial has yet been done."