New research suggests mothers can lower their child’s risk of peanut allergy by eating peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is big news since peanut allergy is increasingly common in the US, it effects 1-2% of the population here. And if it seems like more people are suffering from peanut allergy, it’s true. The prevalence of peanut allergy has tripled from .4% in 1994 to 1.4% in 2010 and 2.5% in 2017. Approximately 20% outgrow their allergies after adolescence.

The increasing number of kids with peanut allergies is forcing changes in school cafeteria offerings, airline meals and the labels on baked goods. Tree nut allergy often accompanies peanut allergy and in fact 25-40% are also allergic to walnuts, pecans and almonds. Exposure to allergens cause symptoms to occur within minutes and can cause reactions from mild to life threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction are:

• Itchy skin or hives, which can appear as small spots or large welts
• An itching or tingling sensation in or around the mouth or throat
• Nausea
• A runny or congested nose
• Anaphylaxis (less common), a potentially life-threatening reaction that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock

Researchers have been battling the increasing number of peanut allergies for decades. In 2000, pregnant and nursing moms were advised to avoid peanuts, especially if they had a family history of allergies. Parents were also advised to wait until age 3 to give peanuts, when digestion was more mature. This advice was abandoned in 2008 when the rates of new allergy diagnosis continued to rise.

The current recommendation is a complete reversal. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of 8,205 children, 140 of whom had allergies to nuts, researchers found that children whose mothers ate the most peanuts or tree nuts, or both, during pregnancy had the lowest risk of developing a nut allergy. The risk was most reduced among the children of mothers who ate nuts five or more times a month.

The researchers, led by Dr. A. Lindsay Frazier of Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, wrote: “Our study supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy.” They added that their data “support the recent decisions to rescind recommendations that all mothers avoid peanuts/tree nuts during pregnancy and breast-feeding.”

Recommendations from the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI) are in line with the data. In 2017 the group updated their guidelines; recommending early peanut introduction (EPI) beginning around 4 to 6 months of age in infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy and around 6 months for all other infants. Other studies from around the world show similar results with eggs and cow milk. Early introduction (4-6 months) of these foods reduced the risk of developing an allergy to that food. If you have concerns about introducing peanuts to your baby, follow this link to watch a video from ACAAI for helpful information https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pVNFWi0XvU

All the researchers agree more data is required to determine the impact of a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding on food allergies. It’s still unclear why some babies develop food allergies and others don’t – if you have concerns about introducing peanuts to your baby, see your pediatrician or allergist for guidance.

This article was writing using these sources-

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peanut-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20376175
https://ncats.nih.gov/pubs/features/five-ctsas-enable
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1793699
https://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/peanut-allergy