Not too long ago, medical professionals recommended women refrain from eating peanuts and other highly allergenic foods during pregnancy and nursing periods in order to reduce the chance of their children experiencing early exposure and sensitization to common, serious allergens. Now, however, a new study suggests that eating peanuts won’t harm a woman’s pregnancy – and researchers are hopeful that further study may prove that eating peanuts while pregnant is actually beneficial in preventing infants from developing these types of allergies in the first place.

According to researchers from the Boston Children’s Hospital, women who aren’t allergic to peanuts themselves can indulge without fear during their pregnancy and even while nursing. The study’s senior author, Michael Young, M.D., of Boston Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology, and his team looked to the Growing Up Today Study for their data, which presented the records of 8,205 children.

Using the GUTS data, researchers identified children with documented cases of peanut or other tree nut allergies. They then examined the diets of these children’s mothers during the pregnancy and nursing periods and compared them with diets of mothers with non-allergic children. Looking specifically at peanut and tree nut ingestion, Young’s team found that peanut allergies occurred at significantly lower rates when mothers consumed these nuts during the gestational period.

New wisdom replaces the old
The new study findings were published in the online medical journal JAMA Pediatrics on Dec. 23, and conflict with research published in a November 2010 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The previous study, which was conducted by the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, claimed that pregnant women who consumed peanuts or other highly allergenic foods (such as eggs or dairy) may be putting their unborn infants at risk of developing these allergies and experiencing serious reactions before their immune systems were fully developed. At the time, the study backed up recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics established in the year 2000.

“No one can say for sure if the avoidance recommendation for peanuts was related to the rising number of peanut allergies seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but one thing is certain: it did not stop the increase,” Young suggested in regard to the prior recommendations outlined by the AAP. “It was clear that a new approach was needed, opening the door for new research.”

Young also noted that, though the study performed at the Boston Children’s Hospital was promising, there is as yet no cause-and-effect link to women eating peanuts actually preventing these allergies from developing. So far, the research merely suggests that women who ingest the legumes aren’t putting their infants in harm’s way. However, some medical researchers remain hopeful that a cause-and-effect relationship will be established upon further study.

“By linking maternal peanut consumption to reduced allergy risk we are providing new data to support the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases tolerance and reduces risk of childhood food allergy,” said Young.

While the research provides new hope, parents should still take child allergy symptoms seriously. Many children experience severe allergic reactions, even when their parents have no history of allergies. Parents who believe their children may be experiencing allergies should seek medical attention as soon as possible to get the necessary medication.

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