Nut allergies are a danger for many, especially children. Now researchers may have found a way to prevent them.
A new study finds that kids whose mothers ate more nuts during their pregnancy were less likely to be allergic to peanuts or tree nuts.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that 8 percent of kids have food allergies, and more than 30 percent of that group is allergic to multiple foods. Four out of 10 children with food allergies are known to have severe allergic reactions that may necessitate emergency medical care.
Food allergies cost the U.S. health care system and families $25 billion a year, or about $4,180 per kid.
About 1.4 percent of children were allergic to peanuts in 2010, three times higher than rates recorded in 1997, note the new study's authors. People often develop these allergies during childhood, and peanut and tree nut allergies typically go hand in hand.
For the study, researchers looked at 8,205 children -- 308 of whom had food allergies. Out of that group, 140 had peanut and tree nut allergies.
Mothers who didn’t have existing peanut or tree nut allergies and ate nuts five or more times a week had the lowest chance of having a child with peanut or tree nut allergies.
Interestingly, pregnant women who had the highest consumption of peanuts or tree nuts were more likely to also eat fruits and vegetables. They also were more apt to have their children try out nuts and nut products before they were 1.
“Our study supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy. Additional prospective studies are needed to replicate this finding,” the authors wrote. “In the meantime, our data support the recent decisions to rescind recommendations that all mothers avoid (peanuts or tree nuts) during pregnancy and breast-feeding.”
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics on Dec. 23.
Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that mothers whose babies were at a high risk of food allergies should not feed them peanuts and tree nuts until they were 3 years old. However, the academy updated its recommendations in 2008 and 2011, after finding that delaying did not reduce the risk of food allergies. A 2009 study showed that giving children peanuts at an earlier age was linked to a lower incidence of peanut allergies.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor in pediatrics and primary care at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote that the study showed that pregnant women should not avoid eating nuts during pregnancy, unless they are allergic themselves.
“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 could potentially prevent both neural tube defects and nut sensitization. So, to provide guidance in how to respond to the age-old question ‘To eat or not to eat?’ mothers-to-be should feel free to curb their cravings with a dollop of peanut butter!” she wrote.
However, Dr. Carla Davis, allergy specialist on the Immunology Society's board of directors and a specialist at Texas Children's Hospital's Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Department, told CBS News in an email that the study didn’t prove that moms eating peanuts or tree nuts prevented allergies in children. Risk reduction may be due to other factors including that the mothers were eating more healthy fruits and vegetables or that the children were eating nuts at an earlier age. The families in the study were mostly educated, wealthy families, so the results didn’t match the general population, she added.
“Given several conflicting reports of the role of peanut consumption during pregnancy, it is still not clear if eating nuts before, during or after pregnancy would be beneficial for the child in the prevention of food allergy,” she said.