Anthroposophic lifestyle & allergies in children

by Jule Klotter


Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients,  May, 2006  
Factors associated with an anthroposophical lifestyle decrease the risk of allergies and asthma in children, according to two European studies. Anthroposophy, based on the writings of mystic and social philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), combines human development with an investigation of the divine spark found in all of nature. The movement has marked education (Waldorf/Steiner schools), agriculture (biodynamic farming), art, architecture, and medicine. Anthroposophical doctors use orthodox medical treatment when necessary but emphasize nature-based therapies that support the body's innate healing wisdom. Antibiotics, fever-reducing agents, and vaccinations are used with discretion.

A cross-section study in The Lancet (May 1, 1999) compares 295 children (ages five to 13), attending two Steiner schools in a village near Stockholm, Sweden, with 380 children of the same age attending neighboring schools. The researchers gathered data on the children's history of allergy and infectious diseases, use of antibiotics and vaccinations, and other lifestyle/environmental factors (e.g., breastfeeding, household pets, maternal smoking, food). Children raised according to anthroposophy do not receive a combined measles, mumps, rubella vaccination. Consequently, these children account for most of Sweden's measles cases. The vaccinations they do receive--usually tetanus and polio--are given later than recommended by health authorities. Antibiotics and anti-pyretics (fever reducers) are also avoided. Anthroposophical families tend to eat organic or biodynamic food and spontaneously fermented vegetables.

In addition to collecting histories, the researchers performed skin-prick tests for 13 common allergens on the children. They also tested blood samples, taken from the children and their parents, for allergen-specific serum IgE-antibodies. Seven percent of the Steiner students had positive skin prick tests compared to 13% of the control group, and 24% had positive blood test reactions, compared with 33% of the control. Yet, only 13% of the Steiner students had a history of atopy or allergy-like symptoms compared with 25% of children in the control school (p<0.001).

The Swedish researchers could not pinpoint a specific item that lessened the Steiner students' risk of atopy, but they did suggest two likely factors. Sixty-one percent of the Steiner students had had the measles, compared to about one percent in the control schools. The researchers mention that measles infection tends to inhibit atopy, according to scientific literature. Fermented vegetables, containing live lactobacilli, are the second factor. Sixty-three percent of the Steiner students regularly eat fermented vegetables, compared to only 4.5% of the control students. Lactobacilli inhibit antigen-induced IgE production and alter the interleukin profile. Milk formula fortified with lactobacilli has reduced allergy symptoms and intestinal inflammation in infants with milk allergy and atopic dermatitis, according to a study by H. Majamaa and E. Isolauri (J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997; 99: 179-185). Higher levels of intestinal lactobacilli have been associated with lower allergy rates among Estonian children in comparison to Swedish children (Acta Paediatr. 1997; 86: 956-61).

A January 2006 study, published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, confirms a correlation between anthroposophical lifestyle and decreased risk of allergy among children. This study involves over 6,600 children, ages five to 13 years, (4,606 from Steiner schools and 2,024 from reference schools) in five European countries (Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). Parental questionnaires provided information about each child's infection history, diet, animal contact, environmental exposures, anthroposophic lifestyle factors, and symptoms and diagnoses of allergic illness. Blood samples were also collected from the children. The Steiner group had "statistically significant reduced risks for rhinoconjunctivitis, atopic eczema, and atopic sensitization." As in the earlier study, children who had the measles have a lower risk of IgE-mediated eczema. In this study, however, simply receiving the MMR vaccine is associated with having a higher risk of rhinoconjunctivitis. Results also identify early use of antibiotics as a factor. Children receiving antibiotics during the first year of life have increased risks of rhinoconjunctivitis (odds ratio (OR), 1.97; 95% CI, 1.26-3.08), asthma (OR, 2.79; 95% CI, 2.03-3.83), and atopic eczema (OR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.02-1.71).

Aim JS, Swartz J, Lilja G et al. Atopy in children of families with an anthroposophic lifestyle. The Lancet, May 1, 1999. Available at Accessed February 3, 2006.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. New research from Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology shows anthroposophic lifestyle reduces risk of allergic disease in children (press release). Available at Accessed February 3, 2006.

Floistrup H, Swartz J, Bergstrom A et al. Allergic disease and sensitization in Steiner school children (Abstract). The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2006;117:59-66. Available at Accessed February 3, 2006.

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