Women had been advised to avoid peanuts while they were pregnant or nursing, to lessen the chance their child could develop a peanut allergy. But a new study
indicates that restriction may not make a difference, and that eating nuts may be what lowers the risk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed a peanut-free diet in 2000, to minimize early allergen exposure and sensitivity. The number of peanut allergy cases in the United States continued to rise, however, tripling over the past 15 years to 1.4 percent of children, despite that recommendation. The Academy dropped the endorsement in 2008.
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital looked at more than 8,000 children whose mothers had reported their diet during or shortly before or after their pregnancy as part of an ongoing health study. They found that children whose mothers were not allergic to nuts and ate them five times a week or more had the lowest risk of developing a nut allergy themselves.
Their study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics
, supports the hypothesis that "early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy." Senior author Michael Young stresses that while the data does not show that eating peanuts during pregnancy will prevent allergy, "we can say that peanut consumption during pregnancy does not cause peanut allergy in children."