12 Sep Furry Pets May Reduce Allergies in Kids By Changing Gut Bacteria
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Earlier it was thought that exposure to pets early in childhood was a risk factor for developing allergic disease. Later epidemiologic studies have given contradictory results and even suggested that early exposure to pets may be protective against allergies, though the mechanisms of this protective effect have remained elusive. Our results are the first to show that specific bifidobacteria present in pets can be transferred to the infant gastrointestinal tract during a close contact. Bifidobacteria in general are a part of the microbiota in healthy breast fed infants, and many studies have shown that human-specific bifidobacteria have beneficial effects to health, e.g. lower the risk of allergic disease. The same might hold true for bifidobacteria of animal origin which may enhance and strengthen the development of the infants´ immune system to be protective against allergies.
Our results showed that animal-derived bifidobacteria were found in a higher proportion in infants of pet-keeping families than in those without such exposure. We also found that B. thermophilum (pet-derived Bifidobacterium) was associated with a lower risk for atopic sensitization at 6 months of age.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: The conclusion is that pet exposure early in life has an impact on the composition of the gut microbiota, providing a potential mechanism for a beneficial and tolerogenic environmental effect on the gut microbiota in infants. Families with an infant or a pregnant mother should not be advised to avoid having a pet in order to prevent the development of allergic disease in the infant.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: The effects of different types of furry pet, e.g. cats and dogs, on infant gut microbiota and the development of allergic disease should be studied separately. Also the impact of the diet and the state of health of the pet on gut microbiota calls for further studies.
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Merja Nermes, MD (2015). Furry Pets May Reduce Allergies in Kids By Changing Gut Bacteria