From the Editor: March-April 2017
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
By Marg Land
According to my youngest child, he’s just too darn healthy.
He recently made this eyebrow-raising claim during one of his almost daily rants against school attendance.
“—– doesn’t have to go to school all the time,” he whined, naming one of his friends.
Curious – and somewhat irked by the idea another kid’s slacker habits were providing my son with even more anti-school ammunition – I asked why.
“He has this breathing thing.”
Breathing thing? I instantly felt guilty for my uncharitable thoughts toward slacker kid. “Breathing thing” sounded serious.
“He’s got asthma or allergies or something,” my son added, shoving a handful of granola bars in his lunch bag. “I wish I had allergies.”
His glare felt a bit accusatory as he stomped out to wait for the bus.
Hours later, as I checked my email messages for the umpteenth time that morning, I was still thinking about my 13-year-old’s wistful wish. Why do some kids develop allergies and others don’t? Where had I gone right? Or wrong [depending on your point of view]? As I opened my next email, the answer was suddenly staring me in the face – manure.
That’s right – manure. According to recent research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Apparently, some Swiss scientist types were shooting the breeze when they came up with an interesting experiment idea. Why not investigate the “farmhouse effect,” the idea that children who grow up on a farm are less likely to suffer from allergies. Obviously, it was a bit unethical to experiment on children so they did the next best thing – they experimented on mice, country and city mice specifically. In quite possibly the strangest twist on an old cliché, they introduced mice to a cow barn and then monitored the resulting generations for ear swelling [which I guess is a sign of allergies].
The results? Mice born in the cow barn reacted less intensely to an artificial allergen than those born in the laboratory. And mice transferred to the barn four weeks after birth were slightly less well protected than the native population.
“Children of farmers’ wives who worked in animal sheds while they were pregnant accordingly have fewer problems with allergies,” said Philippe Eigenmann, a researcher at Geneva University Hospitals.
Based on a comparison of cells and signaling substances in the immune systems of both populations of mice, the immune defense of the farm-born mice was constantly activated but also regulated by germs from the cow barn.
“The immune system evidently learns to moderate its response,” said Eigenmann, adding it might be time society rethought the concept of cleanliness.
So, it would appear that all those hours I spent mucking out stalls and hauling manure while pregnant with both my children had a benefit beyond good exercise and a clean barn. My kids turned out healthier than some of their peers. And I was to blame.
How Freudian. Wasn’t he Swiss? Wait – no – that was Jung.