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19 December 2013 09:10
Children who grow up in a home with pets are less likely to develop asthma and allergies
It is well-known that children who grow up in a home with pets are less likely to develop asthma and allergies - and scientists from the US now seems to have found out why.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, carried out a study involving mice which found exposure to dogs has a significant impact on the composition of gut microbes.
Mice that were brought into contact with dust from homes where dogs were allowed to spend time outside showed a different gut microbe mix than those who were exposed to dust from households without dogs, or those that were not exposed to dust.
Susan Lynch, associate professor in the university's division of gastroenterology and senior author of the study, concluded the presence of dogs "might inoculate the GI tract" of newborns and make their immune response less sensitive to allergens.
She added: "We develop this great diversity of organisms [in the gut] over the first couple of years of life."
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, relate to mice but are likely to apply to humans as well since they are consistent with earlier studies, Dr Lynch said.
The research also found that one particular bacteria species, Lactobacillus johnsonii, is closely linked to protection against allergies.
Dr Lynch said when these bacteria were taken from the gut of one group of mice and transferred to another group, "those mice were protected", adding: "The immune response was significantly reduced in those animals and they looked healthier."
However, it was found other mice with a more diversified microbiome were even better protected, which could suggest that other organisms affect the immune response too.
Dr Lynch said the aim was now to develop probiotics, or "microbial-based therapies", that could help treat asthma and allergies or even prevent the conditions.
This will be welcome news for the 5.4 million people in the UK who are currently receiving treatment for asthma, 1.1 million of whom are children. An
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