Study says that women who eat nuts during pregnancy may reduce risk of allergies in children

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A new study says that mothers who eat nuts during pregnancy are less likely to have children with nut allergies than those who do not.

Conducted as part of the Nurses' Health Study II, the survey-based study used medical records and survey data from more than 8,200 children of mothers who took part in the NHSII.

Of the 8,200 analyzed, about 300 had food allergies. Of those, 140 were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. Researchers found that mothers who ate the most tree nuts or peanuts during pregnancy (defined as five times a week or more) had the lowest risk of having children who developed an allergy to those nuts.

Support for 'exposure theory'

The report, published in

JAMA Pediatrics

, lends credence to the "exposure theory" some food allergists maintain. That theory states that children who are exposed to potential allergens early are less likely to become allergic.

The theory itself is controversial, of course, but does have some merit given recent studies into exposures and a related theory of immune response and immuno-exercise – the idea that an under-stimulated immune system is more likely to develop allergies than one that is actively engaged (some call this the "too-clean theory").

Regardless, while the findings don't necessarily prove a cause-and-effect, they do add to the support for theories of exposure and immune responses.

"The results of our study are not strong enough to make dietary recommendations for pregnant women," Dr. Ruchi Gupta, lead author of the study, said. "Our data should reassure pregnant women that they could eat nuts without causing the offspring to be allergic to nuts."

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