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Exposure to Animal Fur Early in Life Reduces Asthma Risk

Sep 08, 2014 05:38 AM EDT
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A new study has found that sleeping on animal fur for the first three months of life can lower the risk of asthma in later childhood.

According to researchers, exposure to microbes in animal fur strengthens the immune system and protects children from developing asthma.

In the U.S., about 25 million people suffer from asthma, of which at least 7 million are children, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that narrows the airways.

Previous research has shown that exposure to common environmental pollutants at an early age helps the immune system fight an infection. In this study, the researchers tried to find whether or not animal fur helped reduce risk of asthma in children.

Data for the study came from German birth cohort called Lisaplus. The research included over 3,000 newborns that were recruited in the year 1998.

The researchers collected data on how often children came into contact with animal fur and how often they fell sick in childhood.

The team found that children who slept on animal fur during the first few months of their lives had lower risk of asthma. Exposure to microbes in the animal fur early in life reduced asthma risk by 79 percent at the age of 6 years and by 41% at the age of 10 years.

"Previous studies have suggested that microbes found in rural settings can protect from asthma. An animal skin might also be a reservoir for various kinds of microbes, following similar mechanisms as has been observed in rural environments. Our findings have confirmed that it is crucial to study further the actual microbial environment within the animal fur to confirm these associations," said Dr Christina Tischer, from the Helmholtz Zentrum München Research Centre, according to a news release.

The study was presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Munich.

Previous research has also shown that exposure to pets during childhood makes people less sensitive to allergy-causing agents. This is especially beneficial to people who are genetically pre-disposed to be more sensitive than others.

The current study was an observational research and doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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