Living on a farm lowers the chance of asthma in children, finds Chinese University of Hong Kong study


Research shows living on a farm can boost levels of anti-inflammatory protein that can prevent childhood allergies

Joanne Ma |

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A study by Chinese University of Hong Kong has found that living on a farm lowers the chance of asthma in children.

Living on a farm lowers the chance of children getting asthma, researchers say.

Researchers from the faculty of medicine at  Chinese University (CUHK) worked with researchers from Germany, Finland and the mainland to study the relationship between children spending time on a farm and their chance of getting asthma.

Asthma is a condition in which your airways become inflamed and narrower, and swell. They then produce extra mucus that makes it difficult to breathe and triggers coughing and shortness  of breath.

From 2013 to 2016, the researchers analysed blood samples from more than 2,000 children, both healthy and asthmatic, from Europe and China. The aim was to study the role of an anti-inflammatory protein, TNFAIP3, and  its impact on childhood asthma development.

The research showed that asthmatic children from different urban areas around Germany and Hong Kong had  50 per cent TNFAIP3 in their blood than healthy children. 

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The low level of the protein was likely to cause inflammation of the airways among asthma patients. 

What’s more, the study confirmed that such low levels were already present at birth in children who had asthma by the age of 10, suggesting TNFAIP3 could predict asthma.

The research team then stimulated the cells of asthmatic children from urban areas with dust extracted from German and Finnish farms. The results showed that with the dust, TNFAIP3 levels could be restored to the level of healthy subjects, reducing the chance of inflammation of the airways. 

“The dust stimulation might indicate  a potential therapeutic role for farm dust exposure,” said Gary Wong Wing-kin,  a professor at CUHK’s department of paediatrics of the faculty of medicine.

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According to the report released by CUHK, the number of asthma cases has been increasing around the world. 

In Hong Kong, 6,000 to 8,000  asthma patients are taken to public hospitals every year, while around  100 die each year.

“We believe that exposure to farm environments is beneficial for children and allergy prevention ... This may represent a promising future agent for asthma prevention and treatment,” Wong added.