The Answer to Allergies: Live on a Farm?

Every day, we can find a reason why urban living has its downside: overcrowded subways in New York, high rents, and high taxes…lots of stress. Now, a study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine confirms that a child growing up on a farm is less likely to develop asthma. Unfortunately, most city dwelling families with asthmatic children can’t just head off to the countryside.

But don’t think for a minute that farm life is all that easy. The take home message from the European researchers who conducted this study was that while growing up on farms, children were exposed to multiple different bacteria and fungi (molds) that actually stimulated their immune system in a good way to prevent later development of asthma. This news is not actually new: in my book, Dr. Dean Mitchell’s Allergy Solution (Marlowe 2006), I have a chapter devoted to,” Why Allergies are so Prevalent Today”.

The best explanation for the lower incidence of asthma and allergies in rural and 3rd world countries vs. urban and Western countries is called” The Hygiene Hypothesis “. The Hygiene Hypothesis makes the case that our “cleaner”, more antiseptic environment makes the immune system tilt in favor of developing allergic inflammation. The hypothesis attributes vaccines, antibiotics and our diets to causing allergic diseases. There has been great discourse as to whether frequent use of antibiotics and multiple vaccines are more harmful than beneficial to infants – and the debate will probably not be answered for quite some time. Meanwhile, what can we do to prevent childhood asthma, which has doubled in the past 30 years?

My answer for those of us who are not ready to” buy the farm”, is to go back to nature. We are all in agreement that processed foods are not as healthy for us as fresh grown foods. This is common sense. The same thing applies to the air our infants breathe. Even an infant is much better off getting several hours a day of fresh air at a park or schoolyard than being stuck indoors watching videos and breathing in forced air – hot or cold – and breathing in dust mites from the carpeting. The studies continually show that in the first year of life, an infant’s immune system is highly influenced by its environment. I have read several studies by asthma doctors showing that an infant exposed to a cat or dog in their first year of life was less likely to become allergic to these animals.

Well, we can’t turn back time, but we still have some good options. For future parents with a history of allergies or asthma, make sure your infant gets lots of fresh air and exposure to animals – take him frequently to a petting zoo. For the grown-ups, the other good option is sublingual allergy immunotherapy (allergy drops). I have been able to help so many patients with nasal, eye allergies and asthma by using the home program of allergy drops and restore the immune balance…that not growing up on a farm lacks.

Oh, one last thing: our new NC office at 57 West 57th street and the corner of 6th avenue is just 2 blocks from Central Park – in the nice weather I expect to see all of you getting some fresh air on your way to the office.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

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