While autoimmune diseases are becoming more and more frequent, a first experimental study shows that the establishment of “greener” playgrounds could help to reduce this phenomenon.
Improve the functioning of the immune system with greener play areas
The rates of autoimmune diseases (type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis), where the body turns on itself, are on the increase throughout the western world. The main reason, the researchers say, is that children are exposed to far fewer germs than in the past. This means that their immune system is less strained, and more prone to make mistakes.
Although previous studies have shown statistical associations between exposure to diversity and the development of a well-functioning immune system, this new work published in the journal Science Advances are the first to involve a deliberate modification of the children’s environment, and consequently to demonstrate a cause and effect link. According to the team, these show that it is possible to significantly improve the immune system of children living in cities by setting up outdoor play areas ” greener »And biodiverse.
Conducted by a team comprising experts in medicine, ecology and town planning, the research focused on 75 children aged 3 to 5 in two towns of Finland, or a relatively small sample. But their authors said they were particularly surprised by the results obtained, believing that they could ” pave the way for new preventive practices to reduce the global epidemic of autoimmune diseases “.
Significant benefits after just one month
In the lessons of four of the ten daycare centers attended, the scientists installed small plots of natural forest soil, including various plants and mosses, and then encouraged the children, who spent an hour and a half outdoors, to play with the plants and floor. ” It was easy, because this space was the most interesting place in the yard », Notes the researcher Aki Sinkkonen, specifying that the cost of such spaces amounted to around 5,000 euros.
Tests after 28 days showed that the diversity of microbes on children’s skin was a third greater than that of children who enjoyed traditional play areas, and that it was also significantly increased in the area. ‘intestine. Analysis of blood samples has shown beneficial changes in a range of proteins and cells related to the immune system, including anti-inflammatory cytokines and regulatory T cells.
All of the children followed received the same daily meals, and the study authors explained that they excluded from the results the small proportion receiving probiotic supplements at home. According to them, the fact that a significant effect was observed despite the diverse living conditions of the subjects, highlights the beneficial impact on the health of such areas. In the coming months, scientists will explore the possibility of improving microbial diversity in infants to reduce the frequency of autoimmune diseases.