An old Mexican folk remedy for a child’s asthma is to adopt a Chihuahua. Most experts have long categorized this idea as an old wives’ tale that has no basis in science.
Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that living with dogs might indeed offer some protection against allergic airway disease. The research was conducted in mice rather than human children, though.
Alterations in Intestinal Bacteria and Immune Systems:
Animals exposed to dust from houses in which dogs lived had changes in their intestinal flora, their immune systems and their response to airway allergens. The researchers identified Lactobacillus johnsonii as a pivotal species in the gut ecosystem that helps reduce an asthma-like response to allergic or infectious challenges. So perhaps the old Mexican wives were not completely off base after all.
The Hygiene Hypothesis:
This research offers a possible mechanism for the so-called hygiene hypothesis, an observation that kids living with dogs and other animals on farms are less likely to develop allergies, eczema and asthma than children in very clean urban environments.
Evidence from Finland:
Earlier research also pointed in this direction. A study from Finland offers some intriguing evidence that living with dogs might help children stay healthy.
The researchers collected parents’ diaries on the health of nearly 400 infants born in the Kuopio University Hospital. During the first year, quite a few of the babies developed colds, coughs, fevers or ear infections. But infants in the families with dogs were 29 percent less likely to need treatment with an antibiotic and 44 percent less likely to come down with an inner ear infection.
Previous studies have shown that children exposed to farm animals as babies are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. This study reinforces the concept that early exposure to some types of bacteria, especially those associated with animals, can help the immune system develop properly.
For a completely different perspective on asthma, we recommend A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You–and Why by Dr. David Hahn (published by People’s Pharmacy Press).
Those who are interested more generally in how dogs and other animals play a role in human health may wish to listen to our radio show #1028 on how animals can help us heal.
This article was updated on 3/17/16