By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Many thanks to Dr. Mark Holbreich for his piece on allergies among the Amish. We have been following rural allergies and asthma closely on this website because while Larry and I both practice in cities, they are a problem almost everywhere. I have expressed annoyance at the way research is reported on the lower incidence of asthma among farming populations because farming is not one thing, any more than cities are one thing. Neither is asthma one thing. Many factors must be taken into account before we decide what it is about farm life that seems to protect against allergies and asthma, let alone try to put farm life into some sort of vaccine for city kids. In this spirit, I welcome Mark’s comments about raw milk consumption among the Amish. Raw-milk advocates have already adopted word of this study to support their position, while the author himself points to the dangers.
Finally, I look forward to the next study from Dr. Holbreich on the Hutterites, about whom I wrote here. The Hutterites share a history with the Amish of rural isolation in this country based on religious differences with their erstwhile compatriots in Europe. However, as noted in that piece, Hutterite women have a higher rate of asthma than men, which may be in part because they have adopted more modern farming practices than the Amish. Dr. Holbreich told us that they also tend to separate their barns from their houses, which the Amish don’t, and that Hutterite women spend less time in the barns than their Amish counterparts. Variables like these make research both frustrating and fascinating.
Photo by amishamerica.com