Exposure To Farm Animals Protects Farm Children From Asthma, Researchers Find

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Exposure To Farm Animals Protects Farm Children From Asthma, Researchers Find
Photo – nicolehols – pixabay.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a whopping 18 million adults in the US are affected by asthma – that’s roughly 8 percent of the American population! The percentage is a little higher for children; roughly 6.2 million children in the US are affected by asthma – that’s 8.4 percent of the population of American children. Older data from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reveal that more than half of people diagnosed with asthma had an asthma attack in the past year. Again, the statistics were higher for children: 57 percent compared to 53 percent in adults. [1][2]

Why a person “gets” asthma is still unclear – the Mayo Clinic says it can be a combination of both genetic and environmental factors, which makes it hard to detect. However, knowing what your triggers are can help prevent an attack from happening. Typical triggers include pollen, dust mites, animal hair, smoke, and even stress. [3]

What else can you protect yourself from asthma? A recent study has found that early exposure to animals, specifically farm animals, could help build up your immunity to asthma. An asthma attack is basically sudden inflammation of lung tissues due to an irritant. The study found that children who lived with farm animals have higher levels of a specific antibody in their systems, which made them less susceptible to asthma.

The study was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology by Frei, R., et. al. in 2017. The researchers based their study on the Hygiene Hypothesis that people who grew up in environments rich with microbes are less susceptible to autoimmune diseases, allergies, and colitis. Because microbial load in the environment is a key factor in the development of the immune system, they focused on the anti-Neu5Gc antibody in children who lived on farms. [4]

Over 1,000 children from five countries were involved in the study – children of farmers in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, and Switzerland. N-glycolylneuraminic acid or Neu5Gc is a type of sialic acid that is typically found in non-human mammals; when humans are exposed to it, allergic reactions can occur in susceptible individuals. Over the course of the study, the researchers found that the higher the level of anti-Neu5Gc antibodies in the children, the less the development of airway inflammation and the less the expression of asthma symptoms like wheezing. This showcased the inverse relationship between the Neu5Gc antibody levels and symptoms associated with asthma. Furthermore, farmers’ children had higher levels of antibodies compared to regular children. Frei, et. al. concluded that the microbial exposure and exposure to Neu5Gc that were associated with a farm environment had a protective effect against asthma.

As parents, we must all be wary of the environment we raise our children in. However, being overprotective can have its drawbacks if it means hindering the natural growth and development of our children. Frei, et. al.’s study suggests that the more we try to keep children inside the house, thinking we are protecting them, may actually be doing the opposite. So don’t be scared! Let your child play outside or keep a pet if they want one – you may be helping their immune system get stronger that way.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm

[2] American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Asthma statistics. http://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics

[3] Mayo Clinic. Asthma. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/basics/causes/con-20026992

[4] Frei, R., et. al. (2017). Exposure to nonmicrobial N-glycolylneuraminic acid protects farmers’ children against airway inflammation and colitis. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(17)30994-6/fulltext

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