Dirty Dogs Might Be Just What The Doctor Ordered

Who would have thought that the same dog that rolls in the mud, sniffs his or her fellow dog’s behinds, attracts fleas from time to time, and then gives you a big sloppy kiss — actually could be good for your health? But according to epidemiological studies, there is evidence that children who grow up in households with dogs have a lower risk for developing autoimmune illnesses, such as asthma and allergies, than those who don't.

Hygiene Hypothesis

According to research on this issue, there are hygienists who promote the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ which believes that indoor living can do us more harm than good. This theory states that spending over 90 percent of our time in our bacteria-poor environment indoors — as as we do (especially early in life, when our immune systems are being formed) — can cause our bodies to overreact to harmless substances later on, making us more prone to air-borne illnesses.

“Allergies and asthma are both examples of the way that the immune system is misfiring,” said Jordan Peccia, a professor of environmental engineering at Yale University. “An allergy is our immune system attacking something that it shouldn’t attack, because it hasn’t been calibrated properly.”

Dogs counters Hygiene Hypothesis

Peccia states that exposure to animal micro-organisms during the first three months of life helps to stimulate a child’s immune system so that it doesn’t become overly sensitive as they grow.

A study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine found that Amish children in Indiana who grew up in proximity to barnyard animals had far lower rates of asthma than Hutterite children, who were raised apart from animals, on large mechanized farms in North Dakota.

When we are deprived of contact with these ancestral bacterial allies, our immune systems sometimes lose the ability to distinguish between friend and foe. The solution: “If we can’t bring our kids to the farm, maybe we can bring the farm to kids,” said Dr. Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago who believes that cohabitation with all kinds of animals is the solution. He believes it's the next best thing to living next door to a farm for training a growing immune system.

Research has shown that dog ownership raised the levels of 56 different classes of bacterial species in the indoor environment which in most instances are good for us. While a few microbes are less than advantageous, the potential upsides of dog ownership appears to outweigh the risks, according to these studies.

Love Hormone

Netzin Steklis is a biologist at the University of Arizona who is working on a study addressing the elderly. Her research is discovering how living with dogs changes seniors’ skin and gut microbiomes, and as a result — how dogs can lift our mood.

“It is not just an oxytocin story anymore,” she said, referring to the brain chemical often called the ‘hormone of love.’ She suspects that the physiological effect of this type of bacteria in our guts may contribute to the well-known anti-depressive benefit of dog ownership.

Well, I can stomach that. How about you?

 

 

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