Children who eschew many of the staples of modern medicine, such as vaccines and antibiotics, are less likely to develop atopic allergies, according to new Swedish research.
In the study, which compared 295 children from two Rudolf Steiner schools near Stockholm, Sweden with 380 children from ordinary schools in the same area, the children who followed an anthroposophic lifestyle associated with Rudolf Steiner had less than half the atopic disease (allergic type skin and breathing disorders) of the children in ordinary schools.
Only 13 per cent of the Steiner children had atopic disease, compared with 25 per cent of children at the control schools. In many industrialised countries, atopic disease afflicts an estimated one in three children.
In the Swedish study, the difference between the two groups was most pronounced for current atopic dermatitis and bronchial asthmas. Only 3.1 per cent of children in the Steiner schools had reported wheeze in the six months prior to the study, compared with 7.6 per cent of the control children. Asthma cases reported by a doctor among the Steiner children (2.7 per cent) were less than one third of the percentage of cases among the control children (9.5 per cent).
In a variety of allergy tests, the Steiner children also recorded far lower rates of allergic reactions, with an overall allergic response of 24 per cent, compared with 34 per cent among the children at ordinary schools.
After comparing many lifestyle factors, the researchers concluded that the reason for the lower incidence of allergy among the Steiner children had mostly to do with a tendency among their families to use fewer conventional drugs and to eat more foods with live lactobacilli, which may enhance intestinal microflora.
Of the Steiner children, 52 per cent had had antibiotics, compared with 90 per cent of the ordinary children, and only 18 per cent of the Steiner students were immunised with the measles, mumps and rubella combined vaccine (MMR), compared with 93 per cent in the ordinary schools. Sixty three per cent of the Steiner children consumed fermented vegetables containing live lactobacilli, compared to only 4.5 per cent of the control children (Lancet, 1999, 353: 1485-8).