Growing up on Amish farms protects children against asthma

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By probing the differences between two farming communities—the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of South Dakota—an interdisciplinary team of researchers found that specific aspects of the Amish environment are associated with changes to immune cells that appear to protect children from developing asthma.

In the Aug. 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers showed that substances in the house dust from Amish, but not Hutterite, homes were able to engage and shape the innate immune system (the body’s front-line response to most microbes) in young Amish children in ways that may suppress pathologic responses leading to allergic asthma.

“It shows that the source of protection is not simply farming, and has narrowed in on what the specific protection might be,” said study co-author Carole Ober, professor and chairman of human genetics at the University of Chicago. “We also clearly show, in humans and in mice, that this protection requires engagement of the innate immune system.”

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