Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do pets prevent allergies?

Why are allergies becoming more common?
No one knows for sure. There are various theories why this might be, with the “hygiene hypothesis” representing the most popular reason. The “hygiene hypothesis” refers to the fact that in our clean, modern society, our immune systems no longer have to fight off multiple infections during childhood. The absence of infections results in the immune system shifting away from an “infection fighting” stance towards an “allergies” stance.
These two different stances represent opposites as far as our immune system is concerned.

For example, the majority of our children no longer grow up on farms around livestock; they are given multiple immunizations and antibiotics when sick; their environment is “cleaner” than ever, with increased bathing and hand washing. As a result, there is less early exposure to endotoxin, a protein produced by various animals, particularly farm animals, in early childhood. Endotoxin has been shown to shift the immune system away from an allergic response early in childhood. Children who grow up on farms are exposed to large amounts of endotoxin, and therefore have lower rates of allergic diseases.
Does this mean that our children should play in kitty litter boxes and not get vaccinated against childhood diseases? Absolutely not. It probably means that we’re trading potentially life-threatening infections for a shift in our immune systems towards allergies.

Do pets prevent allergies?

A joint British and Norwegian study has found that growing up in a large family with a dog means you run a reduced risk of developing allergies as an adult. Other pets such as cats or rabbits should also expose children to minute particles which may protect against allergies in later life.
The research programme, involving more than 13,000 adults aged between 20 and 44, from 36 areas in the Western world, supports the view that environmental factors in childhood influence the development of the immune system in an allergic or non-allergic direction.
The study found that owning a dog in childhood, belonging to a large family, especially with brothers, and sharing a bedroom with siblings increases the likelihood of coming into contact with more infectious agents at a younger age. These factors encourage the development of a non-allergic immune system.
A larger incidence of boys in the family also increases the chances of becoming an allergy-free adult. One possible explanation for this is that boys generally have more serious respiratory infections than girls, providing more exposure to infection.
The research is good news for dog lovers, says Muriel Simmons, chief executive of the British Allergy Foundation. 'If there is proof that having a dog in the family means people will not suffer from allergies then it is obviously good news,' she says.

My child: Again on the behavior at school or about the value system
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My child: My child swears!
My child: The role of parents in child development

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