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A Very Strange Health Benefit to Having a Dog

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The Probiotic Supplement on Four Legs

A dog is not only man (and woman’s) best friend. It’s also an important helper for your immune system.

And soon, one researcher says, pharmaceutical companies may try to get you to buy and take a dog-germ pill. My first reaction is, “Yew!” But this is really where some medical scientists believe we’re headed, based on the research into how bacteria from dogs benefit humans.

Fewer Allergies and Asthma

A study at the University of Alberta shows that members of families with pets (and most of the pets in the study were dogs) have increased numbers of probiotic bacteria in their digestive tracts that are linked to having fewer allergies and a lower risk of being obese and overweight.1 The evidence shows they’re getting these helpful bacteria from their pets.

The study particularly focused on kids and showed that their adult risk for allergies and weight gain shrank if the household they grew up in had a pet.

The researchers believe that being exposed to the bacteria and dirt that a dog carries around helps the immune system stay healthier. The two bacteria from the animals that were recognized as helpful in this study are ruminococcus and oscillospira.

“The abundance of these two bacteria was increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,” says researcher Anita Kozyrskyj, Ph.D. She notes that infants in the family get the bacteria indirectly as the microbes move from dog to pregnant mom to fetus. And even if the family gives away the dog before baby is born, children still get a healthy dose of the probiotic bacteria while they’re in the womb.

Dr. Kozyrskyj thinks that the benefits of these bacteria are so striking, that pharmaceutical firms are likely to manufacture a “dog in a pill” as a tool for lowering the risk of allergies and obesity.

“It’s not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics,” she says.

The Indoor Zoo

When it comes to the invisible, microscopic creatures that share our homes, scientists have found that we are living in a vast zoo of microorganisms. Research shows that the dust in your house contains more than 60,000 varieties of fungi and more than 110,000 bacteria species.2 And while your body sheds millions of bacteria every hour into the indoor environment, research shows that a dog or another pet lets loose with bacteria that you wouldn’t normally encounter – dogs add more than 50 other bacterial species to the mix while cats add about two dozen.3 Along with helping the immune system to behave correctly and make you less vulnerable to an autoimmune condition like asthma or an allergy, the extra diversity seems to be a benefit to mood and brain function.

The nerve system connected to your digestive tract releases neurotransmitters that play a big role in helping you avoid depression, deal with stress and even maintain your memory. The extra types of bacteria that enter your body from your pets can potentially help bolster this system – although researchers are still teasing out exactly how it functions.4 According to Jack Gilbert, who directs the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, “Exposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions.”5 Also important – if you have a dog, don’t neglect to take it for a walk every day. Research shows that daily dog-walkers generally get more exercise and are in better health than people who don’t walk a dog.6 And their dogs are healthier, too.


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