A study in Finland showed, for the first time, that the immune systems of 3- to 5-year-olds improved when scrubs, lawns and flower beds were added outside of daycare centers.
Dozens of comparative studies have previously found that children who live in rural areas and are in contact with nature have a lower probability of contracting a disease resulting from disorders in the immune system and a higher risk of developing celiac disease, allergies, atopy and even diabetes.
The recent study shows that repeated contact with elements similar to nature five times a week diversified the microbes in the body that offered protection against diseases transmitted through the immune system in nursery children.
“This is the first in which these changes have been found that offer protection against disease by adding diversified aspects of nature to an urban environment,” says Aki Sinkkonen, research scientist, who led the study for the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources. (Luke).
The study published in Scientific advances, measured what happened when children planted and tended crops in planters and played in grass that was added to paved, tiled, or gravel-lined patio areas at daycare centers.
Biodiversity increases healthy microbial diversity
75 nursery children were monitored for a month in ten nurseries in Lahti and Tampere. The changes in microbes in children who attended daycare with additional natural areas were compared to children who attended regular daycare (no green yard area) or daycare without green yard area, but regular field trips.
Playing in the biodiverse playgrounds for a period of one month increased the microbial diversity on the children’s skin. There were also changes in blood counts. The increases in gammaproteobacteria, which strengthen the immune defense of the skin, increased the content of TGF-β1-multifunctional cytokine in the blood and reduced the content of interleukin-17A, which is related to immunologically transmitted diseases, according to a declaration by Heikki Hyöty, professor of virology at the University of Tampere who participated in the study
“We also found that the gut microbiota of children who received vegetation was similar to the gut microbiota of children who visit the forest every day,” says thesis researcher Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki.
According to this study and previous comparative studies, Sinkkonen says that children’s motor skills and ability to concentrate will also improve, with the close relationship with nature.
When we are in contact with nature, we are exposed to a wide range of microbes, activating different parts of our defensive system.
The researchers suggest letting fall leaves decompose naturally, rather than taking them away, and allowing fallen tree branches to decompose naturally on the ground.
“We must modify our daily life to be in contact with nature. It would be better if the children could play in the puddles … and we could take our children into the wild five times a week to have an impact on the microbes, ”says Sinkkonen, which will also keep their tetanus vaccination effective.
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