An interesting hypothesis has come out of Ghent University. It suggests that farms have the best germs for preventing respiratory problems and allergic reactions later in life. The Bullvine and our readers will be happy to know that “it is statistically proven that growing up on a dairy farm is a good way to have fewer allergy and asthma problems than the rest of the population.”
Now granted I am a small sampling of one but until I read this article in The Post, I assumed that coming from a house construction and horse rearing family, I had much more hacking, coughing, and wheezing than anyone else in the whole world. Miraculously after getting married into a dairy family I suddenly became wheeze free. I’ve always attributed it to love, but it could be that cows and dirt were just not in the right proportions in my earlier years.
The FACTS: Seasonal allergies make an estimated 50 million people suffer.
The HOPE: Early exposure to cows and dirt may hold the key to preventing allergies in children.
The Hygiene Hypothesis: More Cows + More Dirt = Less Allergies
This new perspective proposes the hypothesis that allergy and asthma result from a lack of exposure to microbes as a young child. While I am not ready to “roll kids around on the floor of the subway” as suggested by some microbiologists, I do recognize that it’s counterproductive health wise to insist on (germ-free). In fact, there is growing data used as evidence that “farms have the best germs for preventing respiratory problems and allergic reactions later in life.” As well, reports from Southern Bavaria and Switzerland report that only 25 percent of children living on farms in those countries reacted to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, animals, and mold. In contrast, 45 percent of children in the contemporary general population reacted. Researchers also looked at the Amish and discovered that allergic reactions in Amish children are at an incredibly low 8 percent or less.
Research is proving that epithelial cells of the lungs are more important in the development of allergy responses than previously considered.
A report published in SCIENCE on September 4, 2015, under the heading, “Farm dust and endotoxin protect against allergy through A20 induction in lung epithelial cells.” In short, they feel they have pinpointed the mechanism for allergy protection. In trials on mice, they concluded that the immune system isn’t the affected area to watch but, rather, the structural cells that make up the lining of the lung.
Furthermore, they have pinpointed A20 as the beneficial protein.
Do you remember how your body reacted the first time the air that you breathed in triggered an allergic response? As we search for cause and treatment, we have tended to believe that the immune system is responsible for this unpleasant process. Now Bart Lambreht and Hamida Hammad of Ghent University proposed that the first receptors are not the immune system but rather the structure cells that make up the inside of the lungs. To prove this, they worked with mice. They induced them with dust mite allergies and then by exposing them to dust from a dairy farm early in life they discovered that they were able to make them immune.
Building on this success, they studied what exactly was protecting the mucous membranes of the mice. They identified a protein called A20 that was produced by the mice that were exposed to farm dust. When A20 was not present in the subjects’ lungs, the farm dust ceased to protect them from allergic reactions.
Of Mice and Men
Having tested the hypothesis, researchers had the impetus to go to the next level. They were able to test 2000 farm children. Some children, despite their farm backgrounds, still suffered from allergies. The breakthrough came when researchers were able to prove that these children suffered from a mutation in the gene related to A20. There is certainly much more to discover, but the first steps to a solution have been taken. How allergies develop and finding ways to prevent them – especially in children — is a challenge that Lambrecht and his colleagues are eagerly seeking solutions for. They are hoping that the cells of the lung itself will get more attention in research. He proposes that “This could be a sign that allergy and asthma vaccines need to be administered by aerosol instead of injection to be truly effective. Moreover, it may mean that epidemiologists need to think twice before focusing on blood samples alone in their allergy studies.”
“It’s time to enjoy a roll in the hay OR drink from the well, the hose or the stream!”
So to experience the benefits, find that dusty haymow and have a cold drink from an old farm pump because it may be exactly what the allergy specialist ordered. Yes, it’s time to cut back on hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and take a deep breath of that dust-filled and smelly breeze blowing over the barnyard. Those fragrant airs laden with cow dander, dust, pollen, and bacteria could be carrying beneficial effects to your respiratory system. It may not be quite that simple. But it could be a sniff in the right direction.
The Good News and the Bad News
The good news is that early exposure to dust and cows may have a beneficial effect in protecting against allergies. The bad news is that prolonged exposure to “non-allergenic” factors … for instance non-allergenic factors such as chemical exposure may modify that early protection. Nothing works in complete isolation from all other factors. Finding the links and triggers is the challenge ahead.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
It is time to stop stereotyping all germs as bad. No one wants to see children suffer from allergies, so we constantly seek methods for reducing their discomfort and increasing their enjoyment of healthy living. Young and old both welcome the good news that suggests that there is a positive allergy suppressant between two things kids are already attracted to …. Cows and dirt. Go out and start inhaling those dairy airs!