By Kerry Grens


(Reuters Health) – Amish children raised on rural farms in northern Indiana suffer from asthma and allergies less often even than Swiss farm kids, a group known to be relatively free from allergies, according to a new study.

“The rates are very, very low,” said Dr. Mark Holbreich, the study’s lead author. “So there’s something that we feel is even more protective in the Amish” than in European farming communities.

Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis, has been treating Amish communities in Indiana for two decades, but he noticed that very few Amish actually had any allergies.

He teamed up with European colleagues to compare Swiss farming children and non-farming children to Amish kids in Indiana.

Amish families, who can trace their roots back to Switzerland, typically farm using methods from the 1800s and they don’t own cars or televisions.

The researchers surveyed 157 Amish families, about 3,000 Swiss farming families, and close to 11,000 Swiss families who did not live on a farm — all with children between the ages of six and 12.

They found that just five percent of Amish kids had been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 6.8 percent of Swiss farm kids and 11.2 percent of the other Swiss children.

The study did not determine why the kids who grew up on farms were less likely to develop asthma and allergies, but other research has pointed to exposure to microbes and contact with cows, in particular, to partially explain the farm effect (see Reuters Health story of May 2, 2012).

Drinking raw cow’s milk also seems to be involved, Holbreich said.

The going theory is this early exposure to the diverse potential allergens and pathogens on a farm trains the immune system to recognize them, but not overreact to the harmless ones.

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