WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Aug. 6, 2007 -- Babies who have regular contact with farm animals may be
less likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease than other kids, a German
But don't rush out to get a pet pig just yet.
"At the moment, we unfortunately cannot give direct advice to the
parents," researcher Katja Radon, MSc, tells WebMD.
Radon works in Munich, Germany, as the head of the unit for occupational and
environmental epidemiology & NetTeaching at
Radon's study appears in today's edition of the journal
Radon's team focused on the "hygiene hypothesis," which holds that
children who are exposed at a young age to certain microbes may have stronger
immune systems, and that those microbes are less abundant in sanitized settings
than in, say, a barn.
The hygiene hypothesis may explain why studies have found that allergies are
rarer among people who had regular contact with farm animals early in life,
note Radon and colleagues.
The new study tracks juvenile inflammatory bowel disease -- specifically,
ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease -- in 2,229 children aged 6-18 who were
born and raised in Germany.
The group included 444 children who saw specialists for Crohn's disease, 304
kids who saw specialists for ulcerative colitis, and 1,481 children without
inflammatory bowel disease.
The children's parents answered questions about the children's exposure to
farm animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats), pet dogs or cats, and urban or
rural residence during the first year of life.
"We have shown that children with such diseases [as ulcerative colitis
or Crohn's disease] were less likely to have lived in rural environments and
were less likely to have farm contact in the first year of life before the
disease had developed," Radon tells WebMD.
Those findings held when the researchers considered various factors,
including whether or not the parents had inflammatory bowel disease. But
findings may not reflect children with mild inflammatory bowel disease who
didn't seek specialized treatment.
And the study doesn't prove that farm animals protected kids from developing
juvenile inflammatory bowel disease.
"A causal relationship should never be assumed based on one single
epidemiological study," says Radon. An epidemiological study is an
observational study involving large groups of people.
"Furthermore," Radon says, "we should not forget that an
improved level of hygiene has relevantly contributed to today's health in
industrialized countries. Therefore, we should wait until the relevant
components of the exposure have been found and safe therapy has been developed
from these findings."
In other words, Radon's team won't be prescribing a visit to the barnyard
until they figure out exactly how farm animals may protect kids from juvenile
inflammatory bowel diseases.
SOURCES: Radon, K. Pediatrics, Aug. 6, 2007; vol 120: pp 354-361.
Katja Radon, MSc, head, Unit for Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology
& NetTeaching, Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational and
Environmental Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.
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