BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 28 Nov '18

Early exposure to farm environment could help protect against allergic diseases

The prevalence of allergic diseases has increased significantly over the last decades, and researchers are trying to discover new approaches to the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

A new PhD thesis from the University of Eastern Finland shows there’s a link between immune responses and diverse early life exposures, including farm dust and air pollution. It found some changes in immune responses are visible up until adolescence.

Farms and c-sections

According to the researchers, there is strong evidence that different exposures early in life can alter the risk of allergic diseases. One of these exposures is farming. Exposure to the farm environment in childhood, and even prenatally, has been shown to decrease the risk of allergic diseases.

On the other hand, being born by caesarean section is recognised as a risk factor. Another harmful exposure is air pollution – especially exposure to particulate matter, which has been shown to exacerbate and increase the prevalence of asthma in children. However, the researchers say the underlying mechanisms are unclear, causing a delay in the development of asthma-preventive strategies.

Creating preventative strategies

Earlier studies have shown that immunological development and maturation starts already during pregnancy and in early childhood. This means exposure at this critical point of immune development may modify immune responses and cells, and influence the risk of allergies and other immune diseases.

According to the study, the lack of natural birth processes during delivery and neonatal intensive care treatment seemed to lead to long-lasting alterations of immune responses.

The observed stimulatory effects of farm dust and inhibitory effects of particulate matter on immune responses indicate that these exposures could modify responses towards respiratory pathogens and allergens.

The study demonstrated associations between diverse early life exposures and immune responses, both ex vivo and in vitro. Some changes in immune responses seemed to be observable up until adolescence.

The researchers suggest that acquiring comparable data from various exposure environments could lead to the discovery of new immunological pathways and provide novel tools for risk assessment and for the development of preventive strategies.