Eczema Free Forever™

Don’t Forget the Soap: A SolveEczema.org Perspective on “The Farm Effect” and Eczema

Swiss Cows
Until I can finish a book or publish papers, I really can’t do this topic justice. And I’m not really sure users of my site (SolveEczema.org) really need much explanation. Once people really read and understand the site, and put the strategies into practice, what I’m about to say is pretty obvious.
A lot has been written in recent years about the “Farm Effect” — an astute observation made by pioneering eczema/hygiene hypothesis researchers that people who live on farms tend to have less eczema than people who don’t. This led to speculation about whether the reason had to do with dirt or microorganism exposure.
While I am not discounting microbial involvement — please see SolveEczema.org discussions for a different take on probiotics and eczema, and the last part of this very short paper that I wrote https://thewinnower.com/papers/3412-abnormal-ampli-cation-observations-from-applying-the-engineering-method-to-solving-eczema-and-atopic-disease — I also think people are making this far too complicated (with far too much contradictory evidence that isn’t explained).
Take for example the popular interpretations of this well-done study from 2012:
http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(12)00519-2/fulltext
Researchers found a far higher rate of allergy, asthma, and eczema among children aged 6-12 who were from families of Swiss non-farmers than Swiss farmers. They also found the Swiss farmers had a higher rate than Amish in the US (who tend to be farmers, though not all). Researchers may have chosen the comparison with Amish in the US because they originally came from Switzerland, and may be genetically similar, although the comparison would have been even more useful if they had also surveyed the Amish-like communities still in Switzerland.
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kidsallergies-idUSBRE8431J920120504
“As for why the Amish kids have even lower allergy and asthma rates than the other farming kids, “that piece of the puzzle we really haven’t explained,” [Indiana allergist who treats Amish patients] Holbreich told Reuters Health.”
So, to summarize: The Amish had the lowest rates of allergy, asthma, and eczema. The Swiss farmers had less allergic diseases than non-farmer general population, but higher than the Amish. This relative difference was true also for allergic sensitization to various allergens on testing.
The significant difference between the Amish and the farm families suggests the need to consider other influences.
Swiss cows everywhere and up close in Switzerland
Additionally, Switzerland is such a small country where farming and the farming community is simply not that isolated from the rest of the nation. It’s nothing like the US where you might have to drive a hundred miles to see a cow (or a farmer).
Swiss horses in the path
While Switzerland is an extremely clean country, let’s face it, the dairy industry is pretty important — it’s hard not to notice that there are a great many animals and a great many flies because dairy is so well integrated into the landscape. I just can’t see making a strong case that any population is that well isolated from any other there microbially.
Swiss goats are everywhere, too.
But in terms of lifestyle, the general Swiss population of non-farmers is using the same kinds of new surfactants that everyone else in the industrialized world is using where eczema and asthma are so high. They spend more time in homes breathing the detergent “dust” from this use than do farmers, who spend more time outdoors.
Swiss farmers may or may not be using less of such products.  While I doubt they are making their own soap anymore — though I do not know — they do spend more time outdoors, away from breathing such dusts. Recall that these substances increase antigen penetration of membranes, including lung, i.e., to the immune system, it’s as if there is more allergen in the environment.
In the US, farming communities gave up making their own soap later than everyone else. In some farming communities, soapmaking remains a strong tradition. The Amish are one of those communities, probably the most significantly so. Although acceptance of the modern can vary among Amish communities, there is a strong tradition of soapmaking among the Amish. This essay about Amish life in the 19th century (search on the word “soap”)  describes the process.  While it can be truly difficult to get specific data, it’s very unlikely that this tradition has changed much, if at all.
This relatively new environmental factor — the use of these highly hydrophilic modern surfactants that I believe are amplifying “normal” allergic processes — has a much more consistent and close ecological link to allergy, asthma, and eczema increases than any of the other explanations, across time and geography. This factor should be included in these types of studies, because of the potential to reconcile so much seemingly contradictory evidence, not just when it comes to the “Farm Effect”, but also when it comes to the research on allergy and exposure to pets like dogs and cats (especially the contradictory evidence when it comes to cats), or studies of allergy in households that handwash versus dishwasher wash the dishes. Getting into details is a long discussion for another day. However, because these surfactants can so powerfully influence human membranes in a way that is known and directly speaks to allergy, I think it’s too bad the studies don’t include anything at all about this factor. Especially since, as in the study above, there is likely to be a big difference in usage between the populations.
The SolveEczema.org perspective reconciles the major inconsistencies in the research of most of these different factors, such as the Farm Effect. And the SolveEczema.org strategies, from experience, happen to lead to dramatic reduction of asthma and allergies in concert with eczema amelioration, not just for the child with eczema, but everyone in the household. And it doesn’t require getting dirty or rolling around in cow or horse … um … microbes.
 
This room was one part of a structure also housing a mountain café, where day hikers frequently stop for tea or hot cocoa. Note the nearly brand new calf.  OK – this isn’t a common sight in Switzerland – but cows (and their microbes) are.
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