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name of the term : Whey protein, partially hydrolysed

Short introduction

  • Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is a hypersensitive reaction to cow’s milk protein that involves a reaction of the immune system. It is the leading cause of food allergy in infants and children under 3 years of age.
  • Atopy is the hereditary susceptibility towards the development of immediate hypersensitivity reactions against antigens such as cow’s milk protein and produces elevated levels of IgE (immunoglobulin = antibody) upon exposure to the antigen.
  • About 50% of the affected children develop tolerance for cow’s milk protein by the age of one year. There remains a strong trend in infants who recover from CMA to develop (atopic) symptoms such as asthma, hay fever or dermatitis later in life – known as the atopic career or atopic march.
  • In most people, the immune system is able to recognise milk proteins as harmless and tolerates them. In allergic individuals, the immune system overreacts and mistakenly sees milk protein as something the body should fight off.
    • Sensitisation phase
      • In this phase, the immune system begins to ‘react’ against the allergen.
      • The immune system is (abnormally) programmed to produce IgE antibodies to milk proteins.
      • At this stage, the patient does not develop any symptoms.
    • Symptomatic phase
      • In subsequent contacts of the patient with the allergen (e.g. milk protein), the allergen (allergenic epitopes on the milk protein) binds to the IgE found on the surface of mast cells.
      • Mast cells are found in e.g. skin, lungs, digestive tract, mouth, nose, and eyes. This binding works like a key fitting in a lock and ‘opens’ the mast cell.
      • Substances that induce the typical symptoms of allergy are released. Among them is histamine, the most well-known inflammatory mediator. 

  • Reactions can be differentiated in immediate (early) reactions (less than 30 – 60 min.) and delayed (late) reactions (after several hours, usually 24 – 48 hours). They are referred to as immediate hypersensitivity and delayed hypersensitivity.
  • Symptoms and signs can range from mild to severe and may involve different organ systems, usually the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts and the skin. The symptoms (such as vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhoea, wheezing, asthma, rash, atopic eczema) should not be confused with other conditions.
  • Studies show that infants are at increased risk of developing CMA if there is a (positive) family history of other atopic diseases, such as hay fever or asthma.
  • For infants who are not breastfed and at risk of developing allergies, a special formula based on (partially) hydrolysed (whey) protein is recommended. A different type of formula is recommended for infants with proven cow’s milk allergy.

Main function


Partially hydrolysed (whey) protein formulas may be considered as a strategy for prevention of food allergies in at-risk infants who are not exclusively breastfed.

  • Hydrolysed formulas are manufactured through enzymatic procedures that break natural proteins into smaller portions.
  • Enzymatic hydrolysis breaks down the protein into smaller peptides (reduces the number of epitopes = part of the protein that is recognised by the antibodies).
  • The more hydrolysed the protein, the smaller the fragments, the lower the allergenicity of the product.
  • This process results in a ‘mixture’ of peptides with a varying chain length.
  • Based on the degree of hydrolysis, protein hydrolysates are separated into partial or extensive (intensive) hydrolysates. Partial hydrolysates are subjected to mild hydrolysis.
  • The peptide chains in a partial hydrolysate may stimulate the immune system to react ‘normally’ to cow’s milk protein (tolerance induction).
  • The reduced chain length of the cow’s milk protein results in a formula that tastes different (but still acceptable) compared to regular formulas.
Synonyms : Partially hydrolysed whey protein

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