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Why Are The Amish Immune To Allergies & Asthma?
The term “affluenza” has come into the public vernacular as a term to describe rich children who don’t understand the consequences of their actions because of their privileged upbringing.
While this word is mainly a term of derision used to describe spoiled youth, there are a number of actual, physical ailments like asthma and allergies that are somewhat analogous. This is not because they correlate to socioeconomic status, but rather because these diseases are primarily found in people living a modern lifestyle in the industrialized world, while comparatively “primitive” cultures like Amish do not seem to experience them at all. What’s going on here?
The Amish and Diseases of Civilization
As far back as the 19th century, there were writings about how people growing up on and living on farms seemed to enjoy greater health and had a more robust constitution than those living in cities. They were not afflicted by conditions such as “hay fever” (seasonal allergies) like members of the urban aristocracy were. Strange as it may seem, suffering from allergies was once considered a noble quality since it only afflicted the wealthy. It meant you were not a poor laborer.
This difference persists to this day. Conditions like allergies and asthma are more common in urban populations, while they are virtually unknown in communities like the Amish and the Hutterites.
But why is this? How did the different lifestyles of those living in cities and those who lived on farms produce differing levels of affliction from disease?
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Urban versus Farm Living
The differences in susceptibility to disease between urban and rustic agrarian peoples are connected to a lifestyle that includes close proximity with animals. The Amish live a simple farm lifestyle avoiding the use of modern machinery and electronics as much as possible Meaning they live and work closely with farm animals.
Those who are born into this community are consistently exposed to animal microbes and germs on a regular basis for their entire lives including during childhood years. Their environment simply has a lot more germs and just as muscles become stronger with use, their immune systems develop a stronger ability to withstand microbes and allergens in this environment.
Contrast this with the typical lifestyle of someone living in a modern, first world suburb. All the food in the grocery store has been cleaned and prepared according to government mandated health codes. Most people work in office buildings and live in homes that are regularly cleaned with chemical agents and vacuum cleaners. It is comparatively a very sterile environment. The immune system never has had to defend against many foreign microbes, and so becomes less well-equipped to deal with harmful elements in the environment. An allergen that a normal healthy immune system might suppress overpowers the immune cells of someone from the latter group, and the symptoms of an allergic reaction appear. It’s very common. Almost everyone who grew up in a city or the suburbs knows someone with some type of allergy or who needs to use an inhaler for their asthma. About 45 percent of the general population also displays some form allergic sensitivity to things like cat hair, pollen, etc.
Once again, let’s return to the Amish. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers found that the dust in the homes of Amish people had microbes not found in the household dust of the general population. These microbes conditioned the immune system of the Amish not to respond to their presence by producing an allergic reaction. Their bodies learned to understand at a very early age not to perceive these microbes as a threat, and thus they never experienced the unpleasant allergic symptoms a non-Amish person might.
The Amish keep their cattle in farms very close to their homes, and it seems the actual proximity to the animals can make a difference. A community similar to the Amish called the Hutterites lives in South Dakota. Unlike the Amish however, they keep their animals a distance away from their homes. Even this was enough to make a significant difference. The Hutterites have lower levels of asthma and allergies than the general population, but the Amish levels are still much lower.
Civilization has given us much, but rarely do we pay much attention to what we have lost. We have a slew of physical ailments which are directly linked to the overly sanitized lives we lead. This isn’t to say health codes are counterproductive. Many are absolutely necessary. We simply need to make an effort to reconnect with nature more and stop using the hand sanitizer so much. Taking up a small home gardening project and get some dirt under your fingernails. This can be the first step toward beefing up your immune system.