Recent research has shown that a lack of exposure to the countryside and more rural environments may have led to a vast increase in allergies.
I really do wonder sometimes why it takes highly qualified scientists to spend years researching what, to me, is just plain old fashioned common sense! As a child, I was exposed to all manner of muck and dirt and have hardly suffered any illnesses, let alone allergies, in my 50 odd years of existence. Likewise, my sister and my partner, and even my mother and father have never had any allergies and had very few illnesses.
The current research shows that a lack of exposure to a natural environment can cause the incidence of allergies such as asthma. Finnish scientists believe that some bacteria which are beneficial for human health are more prolific in non-urban (i.e. rural) areas and these bacteria play a vital role in developing and maintaining the immune system.
Ikka Hanski from the University of Helsinki has stated that although there are microbes in urban environments, these are completely different to the microbes in the countryside and those that are found in the countryside are more beneficial to our health.
The researchers looked at 118 teenagers in Finland and found that those living on farms, near forests or in rural environments had more diverse bacteria on their skin than those in urban areas, and that the former bacteria were less sensitive to allergens than those found in city or town dwellers.
One of the microbes in particular “Acinetobacter” (catchy name!), was shown to have strong links with developing anti-inflammatory molecules which, in layman’s terms means that the more Acinetobacters you have on your skin the less likely you are to suffer from asthma or allergies such as hay fever or to animals . This particular variety of bacteria is more readily found in rural environments.
So what’s the solution if you live in a town or city and don’t have the ability to just drive into the countryside?
First of all, it seems logical to have more green areas set aside within our towns and cities. More and more here in the UK when new urban developments are built a certain element has to be “amenity land” which, in essence, means there has to be some woodland, parkland, grass and wild areas accessible to the public.
In recent studies it’s also been discovered that those living in urban environments are far more prone to stress that those of us lucky enough to live in the country. By taking saliva samples and testing the level of cortisol (a hormone released when we’re stressed), the researchers discovered that higher levels of cortisol were released by those participants in urban areas that had little or no contact with green spaces compared to those who had access to open green spaces. If we lower stress levels by ensuring more green areas are provided then it follows that the populace will, on the whole, be far happier and healthier.
The way I look at this whole gamut of research is that humans were hunter gatherers way back when and were not “designed” to live in close proximity to thousands of other humans, nor in a sterile, concrete based environment. Humans have over the centuries been predominantly country dwellers, living off the land, and it wasn’t really until the 1700s that we began building up towns and cities/ This was primarily due to the industrial age and the sudden upsurge in factories and the like.
As a child I was encouraged to “make friends” with nature and spent many happy hours walking and playing in woodland, meadow land, as well as agricultural land – coming into regular contact with crops and livestock. Over the last few years I’ve been rediscovering some of the age old recipes and remedies which can be gathered from the hedgerows and I find it calming to have a nice leisurely walk searching out berries, wild plants and flowers, It helps that I also have a keen interest in gardening and photography. And not only do I get to reduce my stress levels by taking a leisurely walk, I usually get a fair amount of exercise. Adam and I tend to take a relatively strenuous walk from our car to our destination and then, when we feel we’ve had enough exercise, we take a more sedate saunter back so that we can stop and take stock of the surrounding wildlife and take photos.