Debbie Borg can count on one hand the number of combined ear infections her three children had when they were younger, and today her kids don’t miss school because they’re ill.
“Pretty much the only reason they’re ever absent from class is because we’re at horse events or other shows,” said Borg, who grew up on a small acreage near Berthoud, Colo., and today is raising her family on a farm near Allen, Neb., with her husband, Terry.
Research indicates the Borgs are not alone when it comes to farming and ranching families with healthy kids. And, even household pets can be beneficial. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that babies raised around dogs are 31 percent more likely to be healthy.
Many years ago, it was found that children growing up on farms are far better protected against asthma and allergies. According to an article in Science: “about 20 studies in Europe and elsewhere have found that children raised on farms have relatively low rates of allergies and asthma. Some researchers suspect a key reason is that the kids breathe in air full of molecules from the cell wall of certain bacteria, called lipopolysaccharides for their fat-sugar structure. Also known as endotoxins, these fragments—from dying bacteria in cow manure and fodder—cause a temporary low state of inflammation in the lungs that somehow dampens the immune system’s response to allergens, the thinking goes.”
Until recently however, scientists were unable to find a reason for this phenomenon. Recently however, a team of European researchers have discovered an actual link between farm dust and protection against asthma and allergies.
First, they exposed mice to farm dust by injecting the molecules into the noses of 6- to 12-week-old mice every other day for 2 weeks. The tests revealed that the mice were fully protected against house dust mite allergy, the most common cause for allergies in humans. Somehow, the farm dust makes the mucous membrane inside the respiratory tracts react less severely to allergens such as house dust mite. More simply put: “bits of bacteria found in farm dust trigger an inflammatory response in the animals’ lungs that later protects them from asthma.”
These findings were then tested in patients. The results showed that people suffering from allergies and asthma have a deficiency in the protective protein A20. The A20 protein, is a protein made by your body when it comes into contact with farm dust. If you have a deficiency in the A20 protein, farm dust can no longer reduce an allergic or asthmatic reaction.
Right now, the research team is trying to figure out exactly what it is in farm dust that actually provides the protection. Once this has been found, it will quickly lead to opportunities for the development of a preventive medicine and possibly a vaccine against asthma. According to scientists on the team, more research is needed but these results are extremely promising. In the meantime, you might pack up the kids, head out to the countryside and breathe deeply!
Sources and References:
- M. J. Schuijs, M. A. Willart, K. Vergote, D. Gras, K. Deswarte, M. J. Ege, F. B. Madeira, R. Beyaert, G. van Loo, F. Bracher, E. von Mutius, P. Chanez, B. N. Lambrecht, H. Hammad. Farm dust and endotoxin protect against allergy through A20 induction in lung epithelial cells. Science, 2015; 349 (6252): 1106 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac6623 Direct link to full text article.
- Science: Dirty Farm Air May Ward Off Asthma in Children.
- ScienceDaily: Growing up on a farm provides protection against asthma and allergies
- TheFencePost: While farm kids grow up around more germs, they’re healthier than non-farm youth.
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