Tag Archives: allergies

Mom’s Saliva May Boost Infants’ Immune Systems

By Kim Smiley

A recent study found that “cleaning” a baby’s pacifier by sucking on it may actually have some lasting health benefits.  Researchers determined that babies given pacifiers exposed to their parents’ saliva developed fewer allergies.  It’s still not clear whether the benefits come from the actual oral cleaning of the pacifier or if this was just a marker of parents who had a more laid back approach to cleanliness, but scientists are finding increasing evidence that some exposure to more microbes early in life results in fewer allergies.

A Cause Map, a visual format for performing a root cause analysis, can be used to illustrate this issue.  A Cause Map intuitively shows the causes that contributed to an issue as well as the cause-and-effect relationships between them.  In this example, researchers found that infants whose parents cleaned their pacifiers by sucking on them, rather than by boiling or rinsing with tap water, had lower rates of eczema, fewer signs of asthma and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that rises in response to allergies.  The key seems to be that saliva contains traces of the parents’ gut microflora.  The infant’s immune system is stimulated by this exposure to their parents’ microflora and this seems to help prevent allergies, which are caused by the immune system responding to harmless inhaled or ingested proteins.  The study also found that children who are delivered vaginally develop fewer allergies than those who are born via cesarean, which limits exposure to bacteria during birth.

These findings are important because the percentage of the population in industrialized nations suffering from allergies has risen rapidly in the 20th century.  Currently, about a third of the children in affluent countries are affected by allergies.  Studies, such as this one, are being done to try and determine what is causing the increase in allergies but the causes are not definitively known yet.  Circumstantial evidence seems to point to lack of exposure to microbes in early childhood as a risk factor.  This study was relatively small and more research on a larger scale will need to be done, but it is beginning to seem that children who get a little dirty and put a few questionable things in their mouths actually benefit from the exposure.

So if you had a mom who cleaned stuff (and you…) with her spit, you have one more reason to thank her this Mother’s Day.  Or if you were that type of mom you have one less reason to feel guilty.

Check out our previous blog – Amish have few allergies

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.