Even in a relatively healthy year, anywhere between 5% and 20% of all Americans are likely to come down with the flu — and after the severity of the 2014-2015 influenza virus, more people are starting to look for preventative ways to ensure better health.
In a new study conducted by the University of Arizona (UA), researchers are hoping to prove that staying healthy might be as simple as becoming a dog owner.
As explained by Kim Kelly, an anthropology doctoral student at UA and one of the primary researchers in the study, humans have “co-evolved with dogs over the millenia,” and although there had been little research conducted about why humans have chosen to keep dogs as pets, there’s no denying that these fluffy companions simply make life more enjoyable.
But the reasons behind the health of dog owners likely goes beyond the topical benefit of having a companion nearby. Past studies have shown that humans and dogs tend to acquire similar bacteria (both good and bad) after living together for an extended time, and in the ongoing UA study, researchers expect to find that the bacteria contributed by dogs is often the “good” kind.
The study, which is a collaboration between three different schools at UA (the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and the Department of Psychiatry), is based on previous discoveries that the “good” bacteria found naturally in canine systems is beneficial to children and seniors, in particular.
According to UA News, the bacteria carried around by dogs has been proven to strengthen immune system health in children, as well as reduce the risk of developing immune disorders such as asthma and allergies.
On the other end of the spectrum, many types of “good” bacteria play an important role in both physical and mental health as the human body ages — but the same medications that fight off “bad” bacteria often result in killing off the “good” bacteria, and after decades of eliminating the “good” strains, older people often struggle to maintain a healthy immune system.
According to UA News, this study is the first in a series of projects that will focus on the relationships between humans and animals, with the intent of providing more scientific data to support the idea that pets generally foster better mental, emotional, and physical health in humans.