Peanut and tree nut allergies, which can range from mild to life-threatening, have more than tripled in the United States since 1997. There are many theories as to why this might be, and several studies have tested some theories to see if the prevalence can be reduced. One new study, published in the JAMA, has found that it may be possible to reduce the risk of a nut allergy in children if the mother consumes peanuts and/or tree nuts during pregnancy.
Researchers from the Dana-Farber Children’s Cancer Center in Boston analyzed 8,205 children born to mothers that had reported their diet before, during and after pregnancy. It was a part of the Nurses’ Health Study III.
In total, 308 of the children had food allergies, and 140 of them had P/TN allergies. Those that had the lowest risk of developing a P/TN allergy were born to mothers who consumed high amounts of peanuts or tree nuts (5 or more times per week) and did not have an allergy themselves.
While the lower risk of P/TN allergies was not found in the offspring of mothers who had the allergy themselves, researchers say this study suggests that, for most expectant women, diet restrictions are unnecessary. In fact, they may even be counterproductive to preventing food allergies in children.
“[Exposure to early allergens] increases the likelihood of tolerance,” the researchers told Medical News Today. And though they added that more research is needed, their “data support(s) the recent decision to rescind recommendations that all mothers should avoid P/TN during pregnancy and breastfeeding.”
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Ruchi Gupta, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine agreed that “women should not restrict their diets during pregnancy.”
“For now though, guidelines stand: pregnant women should not eliminate nuts from their diet as peanuts are a good source of protein and also provide folic acid, which can potentially prevent both neural tube defects and nut sensitization,” Dr. Gupta said in the editorial.
However, like the study authors, Dr. Gupta cautions women with allergies to nuts themselves to still avoid them. He added, however, that a diverse diet could still provide benefits to both mother and child, even if some foods must be avoided because of allergies of the mother.
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