City life

If you’re reading this on a computer inside an office, you may want to step outside… and find a tree to sit under. While the modern city provides many necessities of contemporary living, it may be making us sick. And it’s not pollution that’s the (main) cause either: A recent study published in the May issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the sprawl of urban environments may be to blame for the rise in cases of allergies and asthma.

The study, titled “Environmental biodiversity, human microbiota, and allergy are interrelated,” found that urban residents are lacking in exposure to certain helpful bacteria—which are abundant in non-urban surroundings—that play a beneficial role in human health and boosting immunity to common allergens.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki, Finland, collected samples from nearly 120 teenagers. The teens living in rural settings or near forests were more prone to a diverse array of bacteria on their skin, and showed lower signs of allergy sensitivities than those living in urban settings.

Scientists have known for some time that exposure to nature can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and promote an overall healthier lifestyle, and the Finnish researchers found that the bacterial elements in a more natural environment can provide a rich source of anti-inflammatory benefits as well.

Experts did suggest that even within urban environments, spending time in local parks and natural environments could help to boost immune function and decrease the rise of allergies.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Jill Ettinger