Growing up on farm helps immune system, study of pigs shows

For the first time, there is conclusive evidence that growing up on a farm is good for the immune system. Researchers from the University of Bristol’s veterinary sciences school have published a study showing that “spending early life in a complex farm environment” increases the number of T-cells one has, reports Sarah Muirhead of Feedstuffs. T-cells have been identified as universal regulators of immune systems, with low numbers increasing risk of developing allergies, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Researcher Marie Lewis said it wasn’t previously known whether farm life increased immunity to allergies, or if people more prone to allergies weren’t living on farms.

Piglets were used in the study since they share many aspects of human physiology, metabolism, genetics and immunity. Some of the piglets were nursed by their mother on the farm, while the others were kept in an isolator unit under hygenic conditions and fed formula milk to reflect the “extremes of environment” in which many humans are raised. Farm-raised piglets had increased levels of T-cells compared to those raised in the isolator. Lewis said it’s not clear yet exactly what caused the increase in T-cells in farm-reared piglets, but said previous work shows that intestinal bacteria “plays a pivotal role.” (Read more)

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