Tired of Allergies? Take a Cue from the Amish
Children who grow up on dairy farms are ten times less likely than other rural children to have allergies. That's a profound difference, and it's almost certainly no coincidence. The finding points to new clues regarding the alarming rise in allergies around the world. One prevailing theory to explain this growing phenomenon suggests that children are developing allergies more often because they are exposed to microorganisms less frequently in our squeaky-clean modern environments.
From widespread antibiotic use, to ubiquitous use of antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers, to the obsession with making baby's environment as sterile as possible, we may be doing more harm than good. While cleanliness is usually considered a good thing, in actuality, it may be backfiring on us by depriving our immune systems of early challenges, which can be thought of as serving to provide for careful calibration of hair-trigger immune systems.
Allergies, which usually affect the upper respiratory tract, and may involve sneezing, stuffiness, red eyes and runny noses, result when the immune system overreacts to otherwise harmless proteins in the environment. Various pollens, from trees, grasses and weeds, are common culprits. But the real problem is the immune system itself; these environmental proteins are essentially harmless, but the immune system wages war against them, nevertheless, and allergy sufferers pay the price.
According to research conducted recently in Sweden, living on a dairy farm exposes young children's immune systems to significant potential allergens when immunity is still developing. This sets the stage for immune responses that are less likely to overreact to harmless allergenic substances. Investigators even speculated that pregnant women might benefit by spending time on working dairy farms, to expose the unborn fetus to dairy farm allergens in the womb, thus encouraging their infants' immune systems to mature more rapidly.
"Our study also demonstrated for the first time that delayed maturation of the immune system, specifically B-cells, is a risk factor for development of allergies," says Anna-Carin Lundell, one of the researchers.
A.-C. Lundell, S. Johansen, I. Adlerberth, A. E. Wold, B. Hesselmar, A. Rudin. High Proportion of CD5 B Cells in Infants Predicts Development of Allergic Disease. The Journal of Immunology, 2014; 193 (2): 510 DOI: 10.4049/%u200Bjimmunol.1302990