Reducing the Chances of Allergies in Children: Should Pregnant Women Eat More Nuts?

A recent original investigation released by the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics shed some light on the observed increase of peanut allergies in children, as it revealed that peanut or tree nut allergies in children could be reduced by greater consumption of peanuts and tree nuts by pregnant women. The JAMA Pediatrics study followed a CDC analysis conducted earlier in 2013 that highlighted significant increases in food allergies among children from 1997 through 2011. The JAMA article also mirrors other recent findings, which reveal that early exposure to certain foods may reduce allergies to those products in children.

Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy Statistics

According to the CDC, peanuts and tree nuts are among the eight foods or food groups—along with milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, and soy—that account for 90 percent of the serious allergies nationwide. Further, allergies and allergic reactions are the most common medical condition faced by children in the United States, while children and adolescents who experience anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic reaction with a rapid onset, most frequently doing so as a result of food allergies. The CDC’s 1997 to 2011 study noted that the existence of food allergies in children ages 0-17 increased  from 3.4 percent in the 1997 to 1999 period to 5.1 percent in the 2009 to 2011 period, an increase of 50 percent. In terms of peanut allergies, the JAMA Pediatrics analysis found that earlier studies disclose that childhood peanut allergies “more than tripled, from 0.4 [percent] in 1997 to 1.4 [percent] in 2010.”

JAMA Pediatrics Original Investigation

Perhaps building on the momentum caused by the observed rapid increase in food allergies in children, the JAMA Pediatrics investigation, “Prospective Study of Peripregnancy Consumption of Peanuts or Tree Nuts by Mothers and the Risk of Peanut or Tree Nut Allergy in Their Offspring,” which was released on December 23, 2013, focused on the consumption of peanuts or tree nuts by pregnant woman and the effect on the prevalence of allergies in their children. The study included participants who were born between the years 1990 and 1994 and whose mothers’ diets were studying during their pregnancies. Of 8205 children, 140 cases of peanut or tree nut allergies were identified. From the data gathered, the study’s authors concluded that “higher peripregnancy consumption of [peanuts or tree nuts] was associated with lower risk of [peanut or tree nut] allergy in their offspring,” and that overall the investigation “supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases tolerance and lowers risk of childhood food allergy.”

The study notes that although pediatric standards in the past may have dictated the avoidance of peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and for the first three years of a child’s life, some recent findings have shown that evasion of these products could, in fact, cause higher peanut “sensitization” in children. The findings of the current JAMA Pediatrics article provides further support for these assertions. Although the authors conclude the data supports a positive relationship between early exposure and tolerance, the study calls for follow-up research in order to confirm the results. Still, the authors maintain the investigation’s results are sufficient to rescind the previous recommendation of avoidance of peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy or for young children.

Other Early Exposure Allergy Analysis

In addition to following newly revealed numbers of increased allergies among children, this JAMA study also echoes similar research regarding early exposure to other typical allergy-inducing foods in young children. For instance, in 2010, an analysis in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology indicated there was a possibility of a correlation between avoidance of eggs in the early months of life and subsequent egg allergies in 12-month-old infants. That research found that “the introduction of a cooked egg at [four to six] months of age might protect against egg allergy.” Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics supported a study, which found that delaying the introduction of cereal grains in a young child’s diet may increase the risk for a food allergy.

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) asserts that although food allergies are on the rise, “there is no clear answer as to why.” Perhaps these newly identified relationships between early exposure and allergies in peanuts and tree nuts, as well similar data in relation to other common allergenic foods and early diets, provide that answer.