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In a powerful New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study, researchers compared the asthma rates of kids from two genetically-similar farming communities. They compared the kids from an Amish farming community, who originated in Switzerland, to the kids from the Hutterite farming community, who hail from Tryol in Austria.
The unique difference in these two communities is that the Amish still farm in the traditional way with horse-drawn carriages, kids run barefoot in the barn, and work and mingle regularly with the livestock. The Hutterite communities have modernized their farming methods. Their farms are industrialized, sterile, and the farmers and kids have little access to the farm animals.
They measured 30 kids from each group and none of the Amish kids were diagnosed with asthma, and six of the Hutterite kids were. On average, only about 5 percent of the Amish kids were diagnosed with asthma, compared to 20 percent of the Hutterite kids. In the U.S., only 10 percent of children are diagnosed with asthma. (2)
The researchers then collected both Amish and Hutterite dust, and exposed mice to the dust. The mice that were exposed to the Hutterite dust had breathing troubles and inflamed airways, and the mice that were exposed to the Amish dust did not. (2)
In another study of more than 10,000 adults in 14 countries in Europe, Scandinavia and Australia, researchers compared children who grew up on farms to children that grew up in suburbia or the city. They found that children who grew up on farms were: (1)
- 54 percent less likely to develop asthma or hay fever compared to other groups
- 57 percent less likely to have nasal allergies
- 50 percent less likely to have asthma
Researchers believe that the microbes in the dust may have something to do with the boosted immune response in kids that grew up on farms. In the NEJM study, they found that the Amish kids had far more white blood cells, which are important for fighting infections. They also found that the Amish white blood cells were less reactive than the Hutterite’s, suggesting that the regular exposure to allergens, dust, microbes, livestock and dirt may be responsible for their boosted immunity.
The take-away: Let your kids get dirty – or make your next pet a cow, or perhaps a goat!!