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If you’re counting the benefits of having a dog in your household, you might want to add that living with them during childhood can lower the risk of having Crohn’s disease.
According to a study presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2022, dog exposure, especially between the ages of 5 and 15, was connected to healthy gut permeability and a balance of the microbes in the gut and the body’s immunological response, both of which may help protect against Crohn’s disease.
“We did not see the same results with cats, though we are still trying to determine why,” Dr. Turpin, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and a research associate with Mount Sinai Hospital and the University of Toronto, said. “It could potentially be because dog owners get outside more often with their pets or live in areas with more green space, which has been shown previously to protect against Crohn’s.”
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes digestive tract inflammation, which can cause stomach pain, severe diarrhea, exhaustion, weight loss, and starvation. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.
Nearly 4,300 first-degree relatives of Crohn’s disease patients involved in the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Genetic, Environmental, and Microbial (CCC-GEM) project filled out an environmental questionnaire for the research. Using data from this, Dr. Turpin and his team examined several environmental factors, such as family size, the presence of dogs or cats as household pets, the age of moment of exposure, the number of bathrooms in the house, living on a farm, drinking unpasteurized milk and well water.
Living with three or more family members in the first year of life appeared to be another protective factor since it was linked to microbiome composition later in life. Several health issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, are thought to be linked to the gut microbiome.
“Our study seems to add to others that have explored the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ which suggests that the lack of exposure to microbes early in life may lead to lack of immune regulation toward environmental microbes,” Turpin said.
The reasons why dog ownership and larger families tend to protect against Crohn’s disease are still unexplained. Dr. Turpin and his colleagues hope that their findings will help doctors ask specific questions of patients to determine who is most at risk.