One of the most common questions I get from expectant mothers is if she should eat nuts or avoid them during pregnancy, to avoid her future baby having food allergies. I asked the same question during my own pregnancy 3 years ago, and my training in pediatrics and allergy did not necessarily help me decide, as there were different scientific papers pointing in both directions and the evidence was mixed.
When I did my pediatric training, we were taught to have mothers with a family history of allergies to avoid peanuts. However, in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reversed its advice regarding pregnancy diets in mothers with a family history of allergies. The AAP now longer suggests avoiding peanut. The results of studies on this question have been mixed, but most suggest a “healthy” diet is helpful to reduce allergy risks, but that the avoidance of specific allergenic foods is not necessary.
A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics last week supports the idea that among mothers without peanut or tree nut allergies, eating peanuts or tree nuts during pregnancy was not a risk factor for these allergies. The study suggests that it may actually be protective. In contrast, mothers with peanut or tree nut allergies consuming nuts they could ingest had a slightly, but in scientific statistical terms, “non-significant”, increase infant allergy risks.
Although the new study may suggest that eating nuts is helpful to prevent allergies, the authors admit there are limitations to the study and that they are not specifically recommending this as an approach. In an interview with the Boston Globe, study coauthor Dr. Michael Young, an allergy and immunology specialist at Boston Children’s, said “We can’t make a recommendation based on our findings that women should eat nuts during pregnancy to protect against allergies in their newborns. But we can say that pregnant women should no longer be fearful of eating nuts.”
It is important to recognize that we definitely need further studies regarding this topic, and that a recommendation to eat nuts or not to eat nuts may differ depending on the specific person. For example, it is likely important to consider if the patient has food allergies herself. It is important to discuss your specific case with your board certified allergist/immunologist. We may say that the evidence it still mixed, but can help guide you in a rational and evidence based way.
-Faith Huang, M.D.
Allergy & Asthma Associates of Southern California provides relief from allergies, asthma, sinus problems, chronic cough and other related conditions. Dr. William E. Berger, Dr. Warner W. Carr, Dr. Mark S. Sugar, Dr. Christina D. Schwindt, and Dr. Faith R. Huang together with their staff specialize in allergy and immunology in Southern California.
If you or your child is suffering from a peanut allergy or any other kind of allergy, please call us at (949) 364-2900 to schedule your appointment today. You can also use our online Request an Appointment form to schedule a future appointment.