“Will the cure for allergies come from the cowshed?” begins a terrific opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, author of “An Epidemic of Absence”. He makes yet another case in support of the “hygiene hypothesis” which posits that the absence of microbes in the food and environment of the developed world is robbing us of important agents that help train our immune systems as they develop.
The article highlights an Amish community in Indiana where the incidence of asthma and allergies is remarkably low. In this agrarian society, people are exposed to a wealth of microbes from the point of conception as their mothers work their farms. Later, the children learn to walk in the barns and eventually participate in farming chores, continuing their exposure to the microbes, mold and fungi that are endemic to the life style.
This continued exposure, dubbed the “farm effect”, is suspected of helping to train the immune system to self-regulate. The hypothesis is founded on the theory that humans evolved in the presence of these stimuli, and their absence in the developed world prevents our immune systems from maturing appropriately, thus leading to allergies.
The author makes the case for further study of the farm effect in the hope that key microbes can be identified to help researchers better understand the cause of allergies and develop effective treatments.
Velasquez-Manoff’s piece is well worth the read. Find the article here.