By John Salak –
Anyone looking to lower the risk of their children contracting food allergies may want to turn to fur babies for relief—as in cats and dogs. Japanese researchers report unborn children and those in early infancy who are exposed to these pets tend to have fewer allergies than critter-less youngins.
The correlation between exposure to these animals not only significantly reduces the risk of food allergies but also holds the promise of providing relief to parents who worry their children may be among the increasing number of kids saddled with these problems. There is no cure for food allergies, which occur when a person’s immune system reacts to harmless foods as a threat and releases chemicals that can be dangerous.
Food allergies are a growing concern, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. It is estimated eight percent of children—about one in 13 suffer from these allergies—which extreme cases can be life-threatening.
Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common allergies among children, although wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts can also lead to reactions. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish usually cause severe reactions.
Symptoms include dizziness, itchy skin or rashes, swelling of lips, face and eyes, coughing or wheezing, stomach pains, sneezing or runny noses and diarrhea.
Researchers at Japan’s Fukushima Regional Center recently looked to expand on previous studies that showed exposure in pregnancy and early childhood to some pets and farm animals might reduce the chance of kids developing allergies.
Working with data on more than 66,000 Japanese children nationwide, the researchers discovered that 22 percent had been exposed to pets during pregnancy. This group consequently had significantly lower rates of allergies than children with no exposure. The team did note that exposure to outdoor pets and animals didn’t seem to lower risks.
Yet not all indoor pets yielded the same outcome. Children, for example, who were exposed to indoor dogs were significantly less likely to experience egg, milk and nut allergies compared to children without dog contact. In turn, children exposed to cats were significantly less likely to have egg, wheat and soybean allergies.
Children exposed to hamsters had a significantly greater incidence of nut allergies—about one percent of the total.
The researchers stressed their work did not determine whether exposure to these animals lowered the risk of allergies or underscored a correlation. Nonetheless, the authors suggest their results should spur future research.