Amish farm children freer from allergies even than Swiss farm children

The prevalence of allergies has increased in most developed countries over the past century. The National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey taken in the United States has found that 54.3% of those involved in the study had allergic sensitisation.

Certain populations however have much lower rates of sensitisation, and a study led by Dr Mark Holbreich, an allergist who has been treating Amish communities in northern Indiana, US for the last two decades, has shown that there is something about the way of life led by the Amish (who farm using 18th century methods, use horse and carriage instead of cars, who drink raw milk and who spend the majority of their time outside on the farm) and also farm life, that prevents the development of allergies.

The team issued questionnaires to 157 Amish families (who are of Swiss descent), to 3,000 Swiss farming families and 11,000 Swiss non-farming families. The results showed that 5% of the Amish children had been diagnosed with asthma compared to 6.8% of Swiss farm children and 11.2% of Swiss non-farm children. A skin prick test to determine whether the children have a predisposition to allergies showed that 7% of Amish children do, compared with 25% of Swiss farm children and 44% of Swiss non-farm children.

Because of the small number of Amish children involved, it is too difficult to determine differences in lifestyles between those Amish children who were sensitised and those who were not. Large family size may be a contributing factor to the low levels of allergic sensitisation, as well as exposure to large animals and drinking milk direct from the farm. The common factor of all the study subjects being of Swiss descent was considered but ruled out because the Swiss non-farm children have a rate of allergic prevalence similar to the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey.

Source: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

First published in June 2012

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