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Chinese immigrants in Australia at higher risk of allergies, research shows

Media release

Chinese immigrants who live in a Western environment like Australia have an increased risk of allergies, hay fever and asthma, new research led by Curtin University and the Telethon Kids Institute has found.

The research, published in the journal Allergy, found that Chinese immigrants who have lived in a Western environment for more than seven years have a lower resistance to common allergic diseases, due to less exposure to common bacteria in modern society.

Lead author Associate Professor Brad Zhang, from the School of Public Health at Curtin University, said the research investigated changes in the immune system among the Chinese immigrant population.

“Our immune systems are trained by exposure to environmental microorganisms, which means less exposure to these harmless microorganisms can delay maturation of the immune system and this is what causes allergies in childhood,” Associate Professor Zhang said.

“The aim of our research was to further explore the changes to the immune system in Chinese immigrants once they had relocated to a Western climate, and we did this by collecting samples from 22 newly arrived and 22 long-term Chinese immigrants living in Perth.

“We found that newly arrived immigrants had higher levels of a common antibody, known as IgG1, to some bacteria. This is possibly due to higher levels of contact with bacteria in their previous environments, which resulted in stronger immune systems compared to long-term residents.

“This study found the link between the body’s first line of immune defence and the development of a person’s adaptive immune system acquired throughout their life was stronger in newly arrived Chinese immigrants, meaning they may have better immunity compared to someone who has lived in Australia for more than five or seven years.”

Associate Professor Zhang explained that the research uncovered important information about how different immune systems react in Western countries like Australia and Eastern environments such as in China.

“Our findings indicate that more hygienic environments may impact our immune system, which in turn causes a higher risk of asthma, hay fever and allergic reactions,” Associate Professor Zhang said.

“We were able to determine that Chinese immigrants who have adapted to the Western lifestyle are more likely to be impacted by allergic diseases, due to the increased rate of allergy and asthma in developed countries like Australia.”

The laboratory-based research was conducted by PhD candidate Aarti Saiganesh at the Telethon Kids Institute in collaboration with Associate Professor Belinda Hales and Professor Patrick Holt.

The research paper, ‘A marked shift in innate and adaptive immune response in Chinese immigrants living in a Western environment’, was co-authored by researchers from The University of Western Australia, the Telethon Kids Institute, and Xinxiang Medical University, located in Xinxiang city in China’s Henan province. It can be found online here.