The “indoor microbiome”, i.e. the countless fungi, viruses, and bacteria that we come into contact with virtually everywhere on a daily basis, shouldn’t be written off as it could actually be useful yet. The matter has been the subject of scrutiny by scientists who have established that certain indoor germs could actually help keep a number of illnesses at bay.
In a bid to conform to the straight and narrow of cleanliness and general hygiene, it is feared that we might have set that bar a little too high. So much so that we are doing away with a couple of “good” microscopic organisms that our body, and immune system, in particular, needs to function effectively. With all that we know about which probiotic exists where, it’s fascinating to know that more information can be found in something so dear to our hearts.
Where Our Furry Friends Come In
Dogs love playing with mud. They also sniff feces and quite frankly a number of other nauseating substances that could just make you sick to the stomach. And at the end of the day, the loyal dog returns home imbued with countless bacteria residing on their fur, snouts, and paws. They are basically a walking probiotic tap.
Scientific Backing Explains Legitimacy
If recent findings on human health and the effect pets have on it is anything to go by, then an apple of dog-borne microbes a day might just help keep the doctor away. To substantiate this, epidemiological research has found that children who live with a dog in the household, are less likely to fall victim to autoimmune diseases such as allergies and asthma. This may be down to the rich array of microbes that dogs, and pets at large, drag into our living space.
Going by the so-called hygiene theory, homes with a low concentration of bacteria aren’t an ideal place to spend a good part of your life in; like it was the case when we were younger and our parents made certain we were as far from the reaches of dirt as possible. This was actually doing more harm than good as it can cause our immune system to be overly sensitive to ordinary substances that pose no risk.
According to Dr. Peccia, in order to build a child’s immune system tolerance, it is important that they are exposed to these animal micro-organisms within the first ninety days of life. An actual study proved these words to be true as the findings of that research, published in an edition of last year’s The New England Journal of Medicine, pitted the immune system of two sets of children raised in separate conditions.
An Amish group, who lived in proximity to barnyard animals in Indiana, was found to be less susceptible to asthma compared to those who grew up in technologically advanced farms in North Dakota, far from the reach of animals.
University of Chicago’s Director of the Microbiome Center and co-author of the said study also affirmed the theory. He attributed the Amish’s above average defense system with regards to immune-linked diseases to their daily interaction with their farm animals, and by extent the bacteria they harbor; just as was the case with our ancestors who did so for countless millennia.
Bringing the Farm to the Children
Growing in an environment free of these ancient bacterial allies leads to the weakening of our body’s defense system as the thin line separating foe and friend becomes blurry with each passing day. And Dr. Gilbert seems to have found the answer in the city life kind of setting where farm animals are simply not an option.
He believes the best solution is to bring the farm to the kids which he further outlines can be done through cohabitation with pets. This way, the developing immune system gets its regular dose of probiotic workouts without necessarily needing to move to a barnyard.
A Closer Look at the Home Setting
The average household environment is flooded with microbes. Exact figures, obtained in a volunteer citizen study dubbed “The Wild Life of Our Homes” took an in-depth look at house dust from several homes, placed fungi species at 70,000 plus while bacteria varieties surpassed that mark by more than 55,000.
What Everyone Brings to the Probiotic Table
With each passing hour, 38 million bacteria are injected into the surroundings by none other than ourselves either from flaking off the skin or as we exhale. A majority of that percentage perishes immediately because of the unconducive nature of our homes i.e. warmth, dry air etc. but numerous others make do with surface dwellings e.g. pillowcases and screens of computers while another lot thrive in the house dirt.
Pets, and dogs in particular, are the biggest contributors to this indoor microbiome. Research findings proved that dog ownership elevated the diversity of bacteria by up to 56 class varieties. In that same aspect, their more reserved cat counterparts could only reel in 24 categories. Dr. Gilbert says that while it is uncertain just what impact feline microbes have in keeping immune illnesses at arm’s length, he stated that outdoor cats obviously bring more to the probiotic table than their indoor counterparts.
Not All Microbes Act the Same
However, a bunch of animal-borne microbes actually pose a health risk for humans; a sentiment aired by the President of the Veterinarians International. The New York-based institution she heads is a nonprofit group whose works revolve around improving human and animal health alike, via veterinary care.
For instance, let’s take the case of a dog that has a penchant for rodent’s urine which is more often than not the perfect carrier for leptospirosis. They lick this urine then do the same on your face, or anywhere else for that matter, but nonetheless spread the harmful bacteria through skin contact.
While reports of leptospirosis in New York City are few and far between, it is yet to be confirmed if any of those brought to light were pet-instigated.
Cats, on the other hand, have been found to harbor sleeper cells of toxoplasmosis. A number of other pets e.g. frogs and turtles (sometimes even dogs and cats are also culprits as well) provide a safe haven for the salmonella bacteria through their feces or skin. Dr. Magda, however, was quick to quell fears saying that preventing infection is as simple as washing your hands.
Final Verdict on Pets as Probiotics
Pet ownership no doubt has its downsides but overall, the good outweighs the bad on the balancing scale with the advantages continuing to be outlined every single day.
Riveting research work, though in its infancy, seems to have found a connection between microbes in our digestive tract and those residing in our animal roommates, and also those we swallow or breathe in. Dr. Gilbert further breaks down the relationship stating that contact with animal bacteria can realign the metabolism process, and in the long run, affect neurotransmitters which control feelings like mood among other brain functions. While the human gut and pet microbes’ research is looking up, the doctor urged people to not get ahead of themselves just yet as the research is still taking its baby steps.
Currently, there is research ongoing that seeks to establish how living with dogs affects gut microbiomes and the skin. The study is being carried out particularly on the elderly by renowned University of Arizona Biologist, Netzin Steklis.
Netzin affirms that having pets can improve our mood but he adds on that it’s no longer about the oxytocin alone. This is in reference to the chemical secreted by the brain that has come to be branded as the hormone of love. Though not certain, she believes that the bacteria in question may have a positive effect on our digestive tract which in the end also plays a part in the anti-depressive effect that is associated with pets.
She concludes by stating that while we have co-existed with our furry companions for the better part of 40 millennia, we are just beginning to scratch the surface and we should, therefore, stay tuned as more news on how this living arrangement affects our health is certainly in the offing.