What Can the Amish Teach Us About Allergy Remediation?

Amish people are practically allergy-free


For those who suffer from allergies, an average day can seem like anything but, well, average. Regardless of the source of allergies, suffering can be quite pronounced. Finding relief of any kind can be highly elusive. There are many theories behind why the immune system responds and creates allergies.


Medical science is working on improving how we treat allergies, and a safe way to largely eliminate the symptoms of allergies may someday be possible. However, for now, those of us who suffer from allergies are sadly stuck. Research into the world of allergies has taken scientists in some unexpected directions. One of the directions researchers are exploring is why allergy rates are generally so low among the Amish.


Focusing in on Amish Communities in Indiana


amish-people-1036328_960_720Amish culture and society is built around a different set of approaches and principles. Summed up another way, the Amish do things differently, and researchers have discovered that this fact has some substantial implications for allergies. Studies have been conducted examining children raised in rural Indiana. The reason for these studies is that these children suffer from lower levels of allergies and asthma.


Surprisingly, Amish children in Indiana are practically allergy free; this cannot be a coincidence. Researchers, logically so, were left wondering, “Exactly what is going on here?”


Comparisons to the Swiss


The evidence is impressive and intriguing. According to 2012 Reuters article, a mere 5% of Amish children suffer from asthma. A study compared Amish children with Swiss farm children and Swiss children living in urban settings. The results were startling. While the Amish children had a 5% incidence of asthma, the Swiss farm children percentage was 6.8% and the Swiss urban children rate of asthma was significantly higher at 11.2%.



Looking at these numbers, it seemed safe to conclude that some factors, such as growing up on a farm, was playing a role in halting the development of asthma. The results were similarly impressive, as the Amish children had allergies about 7% of the time, whereas the farm-raised Swiss children had allergies 25% of the time. Urban dwelling Swiss children suffered from allergies 44% of the time.


The Microbe Link


While no one is yet sure as to the source of these profound statistical differences. Many believe that the answer may have to do with exposure to microbes. By comparison to life in urban centers, life on farms is full of exposure to a greater number of microbes. After all, children on farms come into contact with cows, drink raw milk, are around various kinds of animals and animal feces, and the list goes on and on. Simply stated, farm life is dramatically different from city life, especially where microbe exposure is concerned.


milkScientists and researchers are also considering that there could be genetic differences at play here as well. In particular, researchers are looking into whether or not the smaller gene pool of the Amish is playing a role. A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine compared the Amish of Indiana with Hutterites living in the Midwest, who also have German ancestry.


Examining the Hutterite Communities 


Importantly, the Hutterites tend to keep their animals miles away from where they live. By contrast, the Amish keep their cows and other animals close to their houses. In Hutterite communities, only adult men work with cows. Whereas Amish children work with cows from a young age and even play nearby. The study found that the Hutterite children have about the same levels of allergies as the typical American child.


While this is not conclusive proof, it does strongly support the notion that the elevated level of microbe exposure that the Amish enjoy may indeed be reducing overall allergy levels.


How Does this Apply to You?


What Can the Amish Teach Us About Allergy Remediation?Parents of children suffering from allergies may want to consider the ramifications of these findings. For example, spending more time outdoors, particularly in parks and other natural surroundings, looks to be a surefire winner. Not only does spending more time outdoors boost vitamin D levels, but it also can serve to boost microbe exposure and, in the process, potentially decrease childhood allergies.


Encouraging children to spend more time in healthy dirt is likely a very good step in the right direction. Of course, the optimal word here is “healthy” dirt. Having children play in your backyard, forests or the dirt in parks (that are known to be low in pesticides) is likely safe and healthy.


Just keep in mind that the dirt in many urban settings may be contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead from industrial pollution, and even car exhaust left over from from when gasoline contained lead.


Getting Back to the Natural World


While living next to cows might not be that practical, there are many other steps that can be taken to take advantage of potentially beneficial microbes. Four thousands of years ago, our ancestors weren’t just spending time outdoors, but were in fact, were living outdoors.


Around 10,000 years ago our ancestors began the process of farming and raising livestock and the human relationship with dogs appears to go back at least 40,000 years.


For millennia, humans have lived in close proximity with both animals and natural. It is only in the past century that the bulk of humans have shifted away from this microbe rich existence to one that is far cleaner for a lack of a better term. However, in the end, this new found level of cleanliness may not be as beneficial as we once believed. Returning to the soil and getting some dirt under our fingernails may be even more beneficial than we ever suspected!

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