In case you need another reason to have a furry friend at home, scientists suggest that a family pet can stop childhood food allergies.
Japanese researchers found children who were exposed to a pet in their younger years were 15 percent less likely to have a food allergy. Just the pet being around a mother while she is pregnant can drop food allergy likelihood, as the benefits begin in the womb.
Those who grew up with dogs were less likely to be allergic to eggs, milk and nuts, while cats reduced a child’s risk of egg, wheat and soybean allergy.
With one-in-ten young children suffering from food allergies — and increasing numbers overwhelming doctors — scientists hope they have come up with a novel way to curb the issues.
The findings come just after a groundbreaking British study found that introducing children to peanuts between ages four and six months can reduce their likelihood of developing an allergy to the nut 80 percent.
Researchers found that having a dog at home can reduce your child’s likelihood of developing a food allergy by 15 percent
Lead author Dr Hisao Okabe, of Fukushima Medical University in Japan, said: ‘Continued dog and cat exposure from fetal development to infancy was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of food allergies.’
The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, are based on an analysis of over 65,000 infants from Japan tracked until they were three years old.
The prevalence of food allergy was assessed based on a parent-reported doctor’s diagnosis.
Dr Okabe said: ‘The hygiene hypothesis suggests pet exposure is effective in preventing allergic disease, and some studies have reported the beneficial effects of dog exposure during fetal development or early infancy on food allergy.
‘This study aimed to explore the effect of exposure to various species of pets on the risk of food allergies.’
A leading theory behind the rise in allergies is the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’
Living conditions in much of the world might be too clean. Germs train immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.
The UK has one of the highest rates in the world.
While hay fever and eczema prevalence has plateaued or decreased, hospital admissions for acute reactions to foods, for instance, have increased significantly.
Pet exposure may combat food allergies by boosting the microbiome. Previous studies have indicated it increases good bacteria, making children less vulnerable.
Dr Okabe said: ‘These findings reduce concerns about developing allergic diseases caused by keeping dogs and cats.
‘Reducing the incidence of food allergies will significantly reduce childhood mortality from anaphylaxis.’
About 22 percent of the participants were exposed to pets during the fetal period – most commonly dogs and cats.
There was a significantly reduced incidence of food allergies among children exposed indoors, though there was no significant difference for children in households with outdoor dogs.
Perhaps surprisingly, children exposed to hamsters, fewer than one percent of the total group, had significantly greater incidences of nut allergies.
The data was self-reported – supplemented by medical record data gathered during the first trimester of pregnancy, at delivery, and at the one-month check-up.
The researchers said the results can help guide future research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies.
Dr Okabe said: ‘Incidence of food allergies in children has increased over the past few decades, reaching more than 10 percent in developed countries.
‘Food allergy is a condition that reduces the quality of life of patients and their families, imposes a significant medical cost burden, and is a major trigger of anaphylaxis, which is sometimes fatal.
‘Therefore, preventing its occurrence is a key priority. The notion that early-life exposure to pets or older siblings provides an immunological benefit to human health stems from the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989 and subsequently supported by several epidemiological studies.
‘Pet exposure has been suggested to be effective in the prevention of allergic diseases.
‘However, in some developed countries, including Japan, families concerned about allergies continue to avoid owning pets.’