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Eating nuts during pregnancy could prevent allergies

A new study suggests that eating nuts while pregnant may lower the risk of having a child with a nut allergy. The study authors think that pregnant women who consume nuts during pregnancy could have been helping their child build up an immunity to nut allergens. The study is the first to provide evidence that this is possible, CNN reports. The study authors controlled for factors such as a family history of nut allergies, and found the strongest link between eating nuts and babies who were resistant to nut allergies in women who ate five or more servings of tree nuts or peanuts per week.

The study utilized data from an ongoing Nurses’ Health Study II. Participants were children whose mothers had previously reported on their eating habits during pregnancy, United Press International explains. Out of the 8,205 children included in the study the scientists found that just over 300 had developed a nut allergy. One-hundred and forty of those cases were tree nut or peanut allergies.

“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,” said study author Lindsay Frazier in a statement obtained by UPI.

The study authors caution that they cannot prove a cause and effect relationship because there are so many factors that influence how children develop allergies and thus cannot issue an official recommendation to eat more nuts. However, as nuts can be part of a healthy diet, there is certainly nothing to lose in eating them in an attempt to contribute to the health of the future baby.

The study is significant because it contradicts prior studies which suggested that eating nuts during pregnancy either had no effect or could raise the risk of the child forming a nut allergy. The authors of the new study assert that the prior studies were based on less reliable data and raise the possibility that eating nuts is an excellent way to try to prevent allergies in children.

In 2008, the  American Academy of Pediatrics retracted advice that parents not feed young children nuts. Peanut allergies can range from minor irritations to life-threatening allergies and recent years have seen the rise of children who are even more sensitive to the nuts, including the smell. With more research on nut benefits on the way, pregnant women should seriously consider eating them in order to give their child a better chance of avoiding a lifelong allergy.