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Having an allergic reaction to any type of nut can progress rapidly to anaphylaxis. According to CDC data, peanut allergies are responsible for more deaths than any other type of allergy.

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (May 2010), peanut allergies in children have more than tripled in the United States from 1997 to 2008.  “We don’t know why this is happening, but there are many theories,” study author Scott H. Sicherer, MD, of the Jaffe Food Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.  According to Sicherer, peanut allergy, unlike other food allergies, is seldom outgrown and is one of the most dangerous food allergies. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended avoiding nuts during pregnancy to reduce the risk of future allergies in children.

However, a new study has caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to reverse its prior recommendation.  To reduce the risk of nut allergies in children, the study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Online, June 29, 2012) supports NOT avoiding nuts during pregnancy. The study looked at sixty-two thousand Danish women who ate peanuts and tree nuts while pregnant.  These women had children that were less likely to develop asthma or allergies than those mothers who stayed away from nuts during pregnancy. These study findings are in direct contrast to prior beliefs that pregnant women avoid all nut products to reduce allergies.

There is little research implicating even peanuts, specifically, eaten by a pregnant mother and her child’s risk for peanut allergy – much less a wider range of sensitivities. Yet the fear continues to lead many expectant mothers to steer clear of nuts.  So Ekaterina Maslova, a researcher at the Centre for Fetal Programming at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, wanted to take a more extensive look at nut exposure and the possible health outcomes in kids.

Maslova’s team, who published their results in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, collected survey responses from more than 61,908 Danish moms who gave birth between 1996 and 2002, and analyzed their kids’ medical records at the ages of 18 months and seven years old. The mothers had provided information about how often they ate peanuts and tree nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, during pregnancy.

At age 18 months, the researchers found, the kids whose mothers ate peanuts were less likely to have asthma.  Fifteen percent of kids whose moms ate peanuts more than once a week, for instance, had asthma compared to more than 17 percent of kids whose moms never ate peanuts.  When other asthma risk factors were taken into account, the researchers concluded that kids whose mothers ate peanuts regularly were 21 percent less likely to develop asthma.

At seven years old, this same group of kids was 34 percent less likely to have a diagnosis of asthma than kids whose moms had abstained from peanuts.  Similarly, mothers who ate tree nuts more than once a week had 18-month-olds who were 25 percent less likely to have asthma and wheeze than the moms who avoided the nuts, although this difference appeared to fade as the kids reached seven years old.  Peanuts appeared to have no effect on whether kids developed nasal allergies, and the children of moms who frequently ate tree nuts were 20 percent less likely to have allergies.

Maslova said the findings are further reassurance that moms-to-be don’t need to avoid peanuts and tree nuts, although the study doesn’t prove that nuts are actually protective against asthma and allergies.  So a take home message from this study may be that if there is no family history of nut allergies, you might not want to avoid nuts during your pregnancy.

SOURCE:, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, online June 29, 2012.