Amish have few allergies

By Kim Smiley

A new study has found that Amish children living in Indiana have far fewer allergies than the general population and even significantly fewer allergies than other children living on farms.  As high as 50 percent of the general population has evidence of allergic sensitivity when tested and only seven percent of the Amish children had allergic sensitivity.  The study also looked at Swiss children living on farms and found that they had half the allergic sensitivity of the general population, but still more than Amish children.

Why is this finding significant?  Scientists hope that studying the Amish will help them understand what factors are causing the large increase in allergies in the general population in Western Countries over the past few decades.

This issue can be built into a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual root cause analysis, to help illustrate the-cause-and-effect relationship between the factors involved.  As more research is done and more information on this issue becomes available, it can easily be added to the Cause Map.  In this example, researchers aren’t sure why the Amish have such low levels of allergic sensitivities, but there are a few factors that are likely involved.  These factors could be documented on the Cause Map, but a question mark would be added to note that more information is needed to verify the accuracy of the cause and to ensure proper placement on the Cause Map.  To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click “Download PDF” above.

One fact worth adding to the Cause Map is that Amish are exposed to a wide variety of animals and the germs that go along with them from a young age. Many Amish live on farms and nearly all own horses for transportation.  Additionally, Amish children help care for the animals from a young age.  Pregnant Amish women are also typically around large animals and the prenatal exposure may play a role.  Many Amish also consume unpasteurized milk and the impact of this on development of allergies is an ongoing debate.

In addition to environmental factors, some researchers also think that genetic plays a role in allergies so it is also worth noting that the Amish are relatively isolated genetically with limited mixing with the general population.

Understanding the factors that contribute to the low allergy rates of Amish children would hopefully help scientists both understand why allergies in the general population are increasing so dramatically and the best actions to take to treat them, maybe even before they develop.