Swedish researchers looking at environmental factors that might be making infants less predisposed to type 1 diabetes have found that living with a dog early in life may not provide the degree of protection previously thought.
As the incidence of type 1 diabetes among young children is increasing in most countries around the world, environmental factors contributing to a slowdown in this trend are now being examined more seriously.
This study revisited the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which holds that a lack of microbial exposure in childhood may hinder the development of the immune system and increase susceptibility to type 1 diabetes.
There used to be a detrimental story line about the microbes in our environment that researchers now believe may have had potentially disastrous health consequences for our gut health and immune function, which are very much interrelated.
Previous research, such as the DIABIMMUNE study, highlighted that the onset of type 1 diabetes in infants was often preceded by a drop in gut microbial diversity, with a disproportional decrease in the number of species known to promote health in the gut.
In this new study, researchers aimed to examine whether canine companionshipcanine companionship during the child’s first years of life may protect against developing type 1 diabetes by promoting diversity through interactions between bacterial networks.
The argument in support of the link between pet ownership and an increased diversity of “healthy bacteria” in infants goes that a dog shares with us some of the microbes they pick up as they saunter about the neighbourhood and places beyond.
Drawing from prior studies showing that infants living with pets had a higher diversity of gut microbes (as measured in their feces) than infants without pets, the Swedish researchers believed that it likely played a role in the incidence of type 1 diabetes.
However, that’s not what the research team from Uppsala University found. In the journal JAMA Pediatrics, they reported that no evidence was found supporting an association of animal exposure with a decrease in childhood diabetes.
If anything, the study found a slightly higher incidence of type 1 diabetes among the children exposed to dogs during their first year of life, compared the nonexposed children.
Overall, this study suggests that there isn’t any firm data to show a link between owning a dog and improved immune health. One thing is for certai, though, the microbial ecosystem in our surroundings is a determinant of a kid’s forming microbiome.

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