Farm animals help prevent asthma and allergies in kids, study finds

In the past, we’ve talked about how household pets can lead to healthier babies. But cats and dogs aren’t the only animals linked to better health in youngsters. New evidence from researchers in Switzerland suggests that interaction with farm animals can help prevent asthma and allergies.

“Early childhood contact with animals, and the consumption of food of animal origin, seems to regulate the inflammatory reactions of the immune system,” said immunologist Remo Frei.

The team also said that drinking farm milk can have benefits, though consuming raw milk has been shown to come with a high risk of making you sick.

With allergy and asthma rates increasing globally, researchers are examining not just why so many kids are developing these inhibiting health issues — they are also looking closely at why some kids aren’t coming down with allergies and asthma.

In this study, it was found that sialic acid — a substance found in many vertebrates but not humans — can act as protection against these “inflammatory reactions” in the immune system. Humans can absorb sialic acid, or Neu5Gc, by having contact with animals, or eating meat or milk from animals.

The team took samples from over 1,000 children and measured the concentrations of Neu5Gc antibodies within.

“Farm children have many more antibodies against Neu5Gc in their blood — and children with more antibodies suffered considerably less from asthma,” said Frei.

Experiments done with mice corroborated the findings. Mice that consumed Neu5Gc in their food were found to have improved lung functionality and reduced asthma symptoms.

Researchers expected that Neu5Gc would reduce immunoglobulin E, which is the antibody most associated with allergic reactions. However, in humans and mice, what really happened was that an anti-inflammatory reaction was initiated in the immune system.

“This takes place through so-called regulatory T-cells, which have an increased presence,” said Frei. “These T-cells dampen incorrect responses of the immune system and have a strong anti-inflammatory effect.”

The findings bode well for eliminating allergies and asthma in the future, the team hopes.

“Our research results open up opportunities for transferring the protective effect of farms to all children,” said Frei. “In this way, we can possibly lay an important foundation stone for effective allergy prevention.”

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