Amish Way of Life Enables Scientists Better Understand Asthma

Amish mother and her two boysAmish communities’ frozen-in-time way of life has helped a group of researchers gain new insights on asthma, a respiratory disease currently affecting 8 percent of the U.S. population.

In their study, scientists took blood samples, performed DNA tests, and analyzed the environmental dust of more than two dozen Amish children living in farming families in a rural Indiana county.

A plethora of studies have revealed that exposure to farm animals and dust help kids build a strong immune system and makes them less prone to allergies later on. The mechanism behind this phenomenon, however, remains largely unknown.

Amish kids are a living proof that the theory is correct, but a research team wanted to learn more on how exactly asthma emerges. In the U.S., 8.6 percent of children live with the condition. By contrast, in Amish communities, the disease affects just 5.2 percent of youths.

The recent study involved 30 children in the 7 to 14 age bracket. Researchers took blood samples to assess the status of the kids’ immune system, while parents agreed to answer questions about their children’ asthma symptoms. Researchers also took dust samples from ten kids’ homes.

Next, the team went to South Dakota to perform similar science on the Hutterite families. The Hutterites are also leading a simple lifestyle but unlike the Amish, who use animals for transportation and plowing, they use modern equipment.

In both communities, kids don’t get exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution and are nurtured by their mothers for a prolonged period of time. Furthermore, though children’s diets contain a lot of fat and salt, there are very few cases of obesity.

Researchers involved the Hutterites in their study to see whether there is a link between farm animal exposure and lower asthma rates. So, they surveyed 30 Hutterite children and their parents. Blood and dust samples were taken and questionnaires were completed here as well.

The study revealed that six kids in the Hutterite community had asthma, while in the Amish community none of the kids had the condition.

Blood tests showed that Amish children’s blood samples had higher levels of neutrophils than the ones taken from the other community. Neutrophils are cells released by the immune system to fight off infections.

The findings were reported Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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