A study conducted by the German researcher Katja Radon, MSc, suggests that Children living in farms are less likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease compared to kids living in the city.
Her theory also known as the "hygiene hypothesis" "refers to the observation that children living in environments with lower levels of microbial exposure seem to be at higher risk for the development of allergies,"
Children living in the farm are in close proximity to the animals in the farm thus they develop better immunity. This could be the reason why allergies are rare in people living in the farms or had contact with farm animals early in life.
The new study tracks juvenile inflammatory bowel disease specifically, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in 2,229 children aged 6-18 who were born and raised in Germany. The group included 444 children who saw specialists for Crohn's disease, 304 kids who saw specialists for ulcerative colitis, and 1,481 children without inflammatory bowel disease.
The research was conducted by means of a questionnaire.
"We have shown that children with such diseases [as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease were less likely to have lived in rural environments and were less likely to have farm contact in the first year of life before the disease had developed," Radon says.
In contrast, children who had spent regular amounts of time visiting or living on farms during their first year of life were 50 percent less likely to develop Crohn's as they got older and 60 percent less prone to ulcerative colitis, compared to youngsters who had not had that experience.
Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune illnesses, where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. It is possible that this dysfunction may originate, at least in part, in how immune responses develop very early in life, said Dr. Joel Rosh, director of pediatric gastroenterology at Goryeb Children's Hospital, part of the Atlantic Health System in Morristown, N.J. He also pointed out that while rates of IBDs are stable in the developing world, they are increasing sharply in more rich nations.
Sometimes an absolutely clean environment -- while healthy in some ways -- might be less than ideal when it comes to immune-linked illness, experts say.
The study also saw that the cattle had a more forceful effect on IBD risks than an exposure to pets in the house.
The study as such does not prove that the animals in the farm protect the kids from developing the disease.
Radon works in Munich, Germany, as the head of the unit for occupational and environmental epidemiology & NetTeaching at Ludwig-Maximilians-University.