Eating nuts in pregnancy can help children’s allergies

Women can prevent their children from suffering from allergies if they eat nuts during pregnancy.

The study – from Denmark – analysed the connection between maternal peanut intake during pregnancy and the development of allergy and allergic diseases children.

Studies regarding links between pregnancy intake of nuts and potential childhood allergies have been controversial recently with some scientific evidence suggesting whether maternal nut intake has any effect on childhood allergy incidence – and if it does whether it maximises or minimises risks.

For example, quite a few years ago, women were advised not to consume nuts in case their child develops a peanut allergy. However, this advice was withdrawn in the UK in 2009 when the Food Standards Agency said there was ‘no clear evidence’ of any risk.

Led by Ekaterina Maslova from Statens Serum Institute, in Denmark, the research team followed more than 60,000 mothers and their children, from early pregnancy until the children were seven – finding that consumption of nuts during pregnancy reduced the incidence of allergies and lowered the chance of a child being class as asthmatic at 18 months by about a quarter, and a third at seven years.

Maslova said: “We found that maternal peanut and tree nut intake one or more times per week during pregnancy decreases the risk of allergic disease in childhood. These results do not support avoidance of nuts during pregnancy”.

The UK NHS Choices service said that even though the study takes into account a multitude of possible factors that may influence the association between nut-eating during pregnancy and child asthma, it is difficult to ensure that they have all been accounted for.

However, the service added: “The idea of exposing an individual to low levels of an allergen in order to decrease their sensitivity to it not a new one, and in fact this sort of therapy (immunotherapy) is already used in the treatment of certain allergies.

“Therefore, it is plausible that consumption of nuts during pregnancy would expose the developing baby to the compounds that are in nuts and so may decrease the likelihood that they would develop allergy as a child”.

Maslova and her co-workers interviewed 61,908 women halfway through their pregnancy about their diet including whether they consumed nuts or not.

The team then checked the health of the women’s babies after the birth specifically looking at whether the child has been diagnosed with asthma by the time they were 18 months or had symptoms of wheeze. This was followed by a second assessment taken when the child was 7 years old.

The main finding of the investigation was that maternal consumption of peanuts or tree nuts (defined as consumption at least once a week) was associated with a 20-25% decreased risk of the child being diagnosed with asthma at 18 months.

In contrast with never consumption, children of mothers who ate peanuts one or more times per week were one third likely to have an asthma diagnosis recorded in the registry and were one fifth less likely to have a prescription recorded for asthma medication at age seven.

The authors said it is plausible that eating nuts during pregnancy would expose the developing baby to the compounds that are in nuts and so may decrease the likelihood that they would develop an allergy.

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