A study into asthma triggers has revealed something interesting for those who are terrified of the germs animals may carry. It seems children who are raised in the Amish community and grow up among animals are less likely to suffer from asthma. But, among another group similar to the Amish, the Hutterite, there is little difference. So what makes these two groups so different?
According to a study released in the New England Journal of Medicine, Amish children were less likely of developing asthma than the Hutterite children. Only 5 percent of Amish children tested developed asthma. Of the Hutterite group, 21.3 percent suffered from asthma.
The Amish culture believes in a lack of technology. They rely on harvesting their own food and producing what they need without the use of modern technology. The Hutterite group are very similar in this regard. Both groups have a very similar diet, which indicates, via the study, that asthma is not necessarily diet related. The Amish and Hutterite consume large quantities of unrefined foods and raw milk. According to the Japan Times, both groups also share “similar genetic ancestry, having come from Central European immigrants.” It is this background that leads both groups to follow a “traditional Germanic farming diet.”
Along with their diet, both the Amish and Hutterite breastfeed their children. Interesting to note is the fact both groups also vaccinate their children, even if this is a modern technology. So, it seems, vaccination is not likely for the differing asthma rates.
The major difference between the Amish and Hutterite is the fact the Hutterite use modern technology for their farming. For example, the Amish use horses instead of machines to till the land. And, it seems, this sort of interaction with animals is what has led to a lower asthma rate among their children. The study has found that the air children breathe as they are around animals may be what is helping boost their immune systems against asthma. Co-author in the study, Carole Ober, professor and chairman of human genetics at the University of Chicago, explains the findings.
“Neither the Amish nor the Hutterites have dirty homes. Both are tidy. The Amish barns, however, are much closer to their homes. Their children run in and out of them, often barefoot, all day long. There’s no obvious dirt in the Amish homes, no lapse of cleanliness. It’s just in the air and in the dust.”
The study into asthma triggers has been a long one, starting over a decade ago when Ober’s colleague, Erika von Mutius, “discovered that growing up on a farm can protect against asthma.” Follow up research has narrowed down from farming life being helpful to prevent asthma to being in close contact with animals.
The study into why the Amish have a lower instance of asthma than the Hutterite was conducted on 30 children from each community. The children were aged 7- to 14-years-old, and blood tests were taken which identified more neutrophils in the Amish children. Neutrophils are white blood cells which are crucial to fighting infections. The study also found Amish children had fewer blood cells that promote allergic inflammation, known as eosinophils, according to BBC News.
This is not the first time a study has found children who are around animals have a lower risk of developing asthma. As BBC News points out, a recent study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics in Sweden showed that children in a household that also had a dog were less likely to develop asthma. This study showed that “exposure to a dog in the first year of life was linked to a 13 percent lower risk of asthma in later childhood among the 650,000 children the authors tracked.”
This study also suggested that living on a farm with many differing animals was also more beneficial when trying to prevent asthma. However, the lead scientist involved in the study, Professor Tove Fall, of Uppsala University in Sweden, warned against getting animals after the onset of asthma in an effort to cure a child of asthma or allergies, indicating parents could even make allergies worse.
The conclusion from the current study into immunity and asthma risk indicate that “the Amish environment provides protection against asthma by engaging and shaping the innate immune response.” It will be interesting to see in the future how this data about asthma correlates with children outside of these communities.
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