Farm life gets boost from studies (Editorial)

by | Sep 1, 2019

Amid the continual drumbeat that modern agriculture is ruinous to air quality, water quality and quality of life in general, two studies released this summer offer reassurance to the contrary.
Scientists from The Ohio State University found that bacteria and other microbes from rural Amish babies, all with routine interaction with livestock, was far more diverse — in a beneficial way — than what was found in urban babies’ intestines.
And, in a first-of-its-kind experiment, they found evidence of how a healthier gut microbiome might lead to more robust development of the respiratory immune system.
“Good hygiene is important, but from the perspective of our immune systems, a sanitized environment robs our immune systems of the opportunity to be educated by microbes. Too clean is not necessarily a good thing,” said the study’s co-lead author Zhongtang Yu, a professor of microbiology in Ohio State’s Department of Animal Sciences.
This connection has led to a theory called the “hygiene hypothesis,” which is built on the idea that hyper-clean modern life — think antibacterial soap, ubiquitous hand sanitizer and scrubbed-clean homes and workplaces — has led to an increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases.
The finding reminded us of a comment from Jeremy Jones, a swine judge from La Fontaine, Ind., who, while looking over top-placing hogs in the Delaware State Fair’s Livestock Extravaganza, said, “There’s no better place to raise a kid than in the livestock project.”
As a side note, the OSU team noted another important difference that could contribute to gut microbiome differences between the groups.
The Amish families grew and routinely ate their own produce. Then, across the Atlantic Ocean, researchers’ data from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare showed child’s risk of developing asthma is lower the more the microbiota of the child’s home resembles that of a farm house.
In urban homes, factors that increased the farm-like features in the microbiota included wearing outdoor shoes indoors, the number of siblings and the age of the house; all factors that may increase transport of outdoor microbes into the home.
“The key characteristic of microbiota in homes protecting from asthma appears to be large abundance of bacteria which originate from the outdoor environment and are beneficial or harmless to health, relative to bacteria that are a potential threat to health,” said Senior Researcher Pirkka Kirjavainen.
Surely, none of this is surprising to you, but take comfort in knowing that science continues to back up the virtues of farm living and it’s still worth fighting for.

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