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We’ve heard a lot about a how rural living, namely, access to copious amounts of dirt, can have a real impact on your immune system. But a new study looked specifically at inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and found that where you grew up had a major impact. These are both autoimmune disorders, which means the immune system doesn’t recognize something and attacks itself, cripping the digestive system.Those exposed to farm life fared far better.

New research conducted at Aarhus University found that people who grew up on a farm, specifically a livestock farm, were half as likely to be plagued with painful inflammation that led to diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

“It is extremely exciting that we can now see that not only allergic diseases, but also more classic inflammatory diseases appear to depend on the environment we are exposed to early in our lives,” relates Vivi Schlünssen, Associate Professor in Public Health at Aarhus University on Science Daily.

People born after 1952 who spent their first five years enjoying farm life had much better health outcomes with regards to inflammation.

“This leads us to believe that there is a correlation between the rise in inflammatory bowel diseases and increasing urbanization, given that more and more children are growing up in urban settings,” adds Signe Timm, PhD student at Aarhus University.

“We know that development of the immune system is finalized in the first years of our lives, and we suspect that environmental influences may have a crucial effect on this development. The place where you grow up may therefore influence your risk of developing an inflammatory bowel disease later in life.”

The study doesn’t state why the rural immune system seems to be stronger than the urban immune system but we know that the microbial environment is very different in the two settings.

While we can’t move everybody back to the farm, this does provide a strong hypothesis as to why incidence of both diseases have skyrocketed over the past 50 years in Europe and the U.S. Want your little ones to avoid autoimmune diseases later in life? Play in the dirt and then play in the dirt some more.

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Image: USDA