Contact With Farm Animals May Reduce Asthma Risk in Children

11339815135_f098a510ca_zRecent research published by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that children who have contact with farm animals (and the associated high microbial exposures) may have a reduced risk for developing asthma and allergic diseases.

In this study the immune profiles school-age children from two isolated U.S. farming populations were compared: the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of South Dakota.  The Amish and Hutterites, which both culturally originated in Europe, were researched in the U.S. to follow-up on revealing epidemeiologic studies conducted in central Europe that reflected an association with children’s contact with farm animals and a reduced risk for asthma and allergies.

The Amish and Hutterites have similar genetic backgrounds, diets and lifestyles, however their farming methods have notable differences.  The Amish practice traditional farming, live on single-family dairy farms and use horses for fieldwork and transportation (and their children have more contact with farm animals) while the Hutterites live on large, highly industrialized communal farms (where their children generally do not have as much contact with animals).

Other studies correlate with the findings that children that grow up on farms have less asthma than children who grow up in other environments.

The NEJM study had striking results:  The prevalence of asthma in Amish vs. Hutterite children was 5.2% vs. 21.3% and the prevalence off allergies was 7.2% to 33.3% as reflected in the data collected.

In an article published by the New York Times, Dr. Talal Chatila, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School was quoted, “It is not far-fetched to start thinking of how one could harness those bacteria for therapeutic intervention.”

According to the New York Times article, Dr. Chatila, who wrote an editorial accompanying the new paper, hastened to add that he was not suggesting that people start packaging Amish dust and selling it in pharmacies to protect children from asthma. But, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if inactive forms of the bacteria could be used.”

Photo Credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

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