What the Amish can teach us about asthma and allergies

While I was sitting in my neighbourhood coffee shop the other day, doing a bit of people-watching, I was surprised to see how many people were staring at their phones.

And I couldn’t help but to wonder: How much time do we spend outside? Have these devices made us hostages of the indoors?

We all know that being stuck inside for all hours of the day can’t be good, especially when we are young. And a new study proves just that.

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a recent study has shown that growing up in a traditional rural environment greatly reduces the risk of developing asthma and allergies.

The researchers examined the incidence of these conditions in two isolated North American farming communities, the Amish and the Hutterite. They found that children growing up in the Amish community were four to six times less likely to suffer from asthma or allergies compared to the Hutterite children.

Although seemingly similar communities in their day-to-day lifestyles, there are some striking differences that could account for these findings.

Firstly, the Amish are known for their rejection of all forms of modern technology, from household appliances like dishwashers and hoovers, to agricultural machinery meaning cows are still milked by hand. The Hutterites are more “developed” and “integrated”, embracing some aspects of modern day life – using cars, computers and even harvesters.

It is also thought that the “modernisation” of Hutterites expose them to a more sterile environment. While the Amish are more exposed to a host microbes and particles. Airborne dust was strikingly higher in Amish homes (6.8 times as high), as well as having four times the amount of common allergens in the air.

When they analysed blood samples, the researchers found that the Amish children had increased levels of certain white blood cells, known as neutrophils, involved in combatting infection, but lower levels of another white blood cell, eosinophils, which are involved in allergic reactions.

So it looks like a back-to-basics existence are in fact incredibly beneficial to a young and developing immune system while it learns how to fight off any potential infections from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.

I’m not suggesting that everyone give up all ties to modern society and ride off on horseback into the country. But I’m thinking that our immune systems probably aren’t as strong as they could be.

And living in a sanitary bubble is not helping either.

So, apart from spending a bit more time outdoors you can also boost your immune system by adding a daily probiotic to your regimen. This will help boost the “good” bacteria in your gut and bulk up your defence against “bad” bacteria.

Also you should consider taking a multi-vitamin with selenium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E, all of which have been shown to boost immunity.

But, just to be sure that you don’t add a supplement to your daily regime that might do you harm, check with your doctor first.

To a healthier life,

Thomas Smith