New research has found that children living on farms have lower rates of asthma when compared to children who don’t live on a farm. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, incorporated data from two studies involving over 15,000 European children.
Dust samples from mattresses and bedrooms were collected for both groups and analyzed for bacteria and fungi. For both studies, children living on farms had greater exposure to environmental microorganisms and lower rates of both asthma and atopy (a tendency to develop allergic reactions).
Increased exposure to bacteria and fungi has been speculated to be related to the presence of farm animals such as pigs, horses and cows. Exposure in childhood to a wide variety of microorganisms may attune the immune system early on to be able to distinguish between “bad” ones and those that are not a threat. Dust in urban and suburban homes doesn’t have the same diversity of microorganisms, which could contribute to a less sensitive immune system. “Maybe our immune system doesn’t work quite as well when these microbes are missing,” said James Gern from the University of Wisconsin. (Source: USAToday.com)
One thing that wasn’t discussed thoroughly in the research abstract was the possibility the children living on farms have far less exposure to air pollution, and of a different kind than children not living on farms.
The concept that early childhood exposure to bacteria and fungi could aid in the immune system’s development and possibly reduce the rates of diseases like asthma is not new. Several studies have previously investigated such a relationship. A study in 2002 of exposure to cats and dogs in the first year of life found it might reduce the risk of developing sensitivities to various allergens.