A new study has found that children raised in rural areas and those raised in urban areas with pets develop stronger immune systems and may be at lower risk of developing mental illnesses than those raised in urban areas without pets.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Ulm and the University of Colorado Boulder, examined two groups of men — one that contained men who had been raised on farms and one that contained men who had been raised in the city and without pets — as they engaged in stress-inducing tasks. Samples of participants’ blood and saliva were collected at intervals following the completion of the tasks to measure the presence of markers for immune system stress.
Participants who had grown up in rural settings showed fewer signs of stress on their immune systems than did those who had been raised in the city. Curiously, despite showing greater signs of immunological stress, the city-raised participants reported feeling less stressed than their rural counterparts.
“It has already been very well documented that exposure to pets and rural environments during development is beneficial in terms of reducing risk of asthma and allergies later in life. This study moves the conversation forward by showing for the first time in humans that these same exposures are likely to be important for mental health.”
— Christopher Lowry, Professor, Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado Boulder
The full study can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.