How Cats and Cows Protect Farm Children from Asthma

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Studies have already proven that the microbes found on farms are protective against asthma and allergies, for children. But now they are discovering that even non-microbial molecules can offer protective measures for kids. The sialic acid that is found in farm animals, is also showing to be effective in fighting against lung tissue inflammation, according to Immunologists at the University of Zurich. Knowing this, this opens up a whole new perspective in the prevention of allergies, according to their studies.

Problems with allergies and asthma have grown over the years, with more and more people developing these breathing issues. One of the worst places for these conditions, is in the industrialized countries, where these medical conditions have severely increased over the past several decades.

There are about 30% of children today, that suffer with these conditions, however, this excludes farm children. Farm children have shown a much less drastic increase in allergies and asthma than their friends who live in the same town, just not on a farm. It may sound contradictory, but farms that are not as hygienic actually have a positive effect on the development of the immune system. It trains the immune system to not react to these harmless materials in the environment, which includes allergies. The bottom line is that the higher amounts of these microbes and the greater the diversity of them, the better protection for the children living there.

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from the microbes. Farm animals do too. Cats that are petted as well as cows and drinking milk attained from the farm, are also asthma preventatives. A team of researchers that was headed up by Remo Frei of the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research from the University of Zurich in coordination with the Center for Allergy Research and Education in Davos and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Switzerland in St. Gallen, this was said: “Early childhood contact with animals and the consumption of food of animal origin seems to regulate the inflammatory reactions of the immune system,” says immunologist Frei. Frei’s research has shown that sialic acid, a non-microbial substance, is what is responsible for this and it is a substance that is found in a wide variety of vertebrates, which would include many farm animals, however, it is missing in humans. It is, N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc).

Humans don’t produce this acid, or Neu5Gc due to a genetic mutation, however, they can absorb it through the contact with animals and by eating foods that are of animal origin. This method incorporates the sialic acid into their glycoproteins. When humans have contact with the Neu5Gc, it triggers a specific antibody reaction that will act as a similar measure as if a child were to have contact with Neu5Gc, such as what you would get by having direct contact with a farm animal. The concentrations of the Neu5Gc antibodies were measured in serum samples that were collected from children during these research efforts led by Frie and funded by the European Union (PARSIFAL and PASTURE study).

Over a thousand children tested
How Neu5Gc works on the immune system
Researchers wanted to know how NeuG5c worked in the human immune system to reduce the inflammatory reaction. In order to do this, they analyzed various cells of t he immune system that played roles during inflammatory reactions and in both children and their animal model studies, contact with Neu5Gc didn’t reduce immunoglobulin E, which is the antibody that most often occurs when an allergic reaction takes place, but instead, it initiated an anti-inflammatory reaction of the immune system, itself. Frei said, “This takes place through so-called regulatory T-cells, which have an increased presence.” He went on to say, “These T-cells dampen incorrect responses of the immune system and have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Our research results open up opportunities for transferring the protective effect of farms to all children. In this way, we can possibly lay an important foundation stone for effective allergy prevention.”


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