Allergic reactions to peanuts and tree nuts can range from mild to life-threatening. But new research suggests that pregnant women who are not allergic to the nuts/legumes and who eat more of them during pregnancy lower the risk of their child developing an allergy to the food.

This is according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study authors note that the prevalence of peanut allergies in children has more than tripled in the US between 1997 and 2010. The figures suggest that 1.4% of children now have a peanut allergy.

Because peanut or tree nut (P/TN) allergies usually begin in childhood with the first exposure, researchers from the Dana-Farber Children’s Cancer Center in Boston, MA, looked at the link between pregnant mothers who eat peanuts or tree nuts and the risk of such allergies in their children.

Led by Dr. A. Lindsay Frazier, the investigators analyzed children born to mothers who reported their diet during, before or after their pregnancy. This was part of the Nurses’ Health Study II.

In total, there were 8,205 children in the study, 308 of whom had food allergies, with 140 cases of P/TN allergies.

Children whose mothers did not have an allergy and who consumed the highest amount of peanuts or tree nuts – which was five times a week or more – had the lowest risk of developing an allergy to the food.

However, the researchers note that this lower risk of P/TN allergies was not found in children whose mothers had the allergy.

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The recent study suggests that women who consume tree nuts and peanuts (or peanut butter) during pregnancy could reduce the risk of their child developing an allergy to the foods.

The investigators say their study is in line with the theory that exposure to early allergens “increases the likelihood of tolerance,” lowering risks of developing food allergies during childhood.

Though they say subsequent studies are needed to confirm their findings, they add that their “data support the recent decisions to rescind recommendations that all mothers avoid P/TN during pregnancy and breastfeeding.”

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Ruchi Gupta, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, agrees that women “should not restrict their diets during pregnancy.”

Though he warns that women who are allergic to nuts should not consume them, he acknowledges the benefits of women eating a diverse range of foods during pregnancy.

Dr. Gupta continues:

For now though, guidelines stand: pregnant women should not eliminate nuts from their diet as peanuts are a good source of protein and also provide folic acid, which could potentially prevent both neural tube defects and nut sensitization.”

Medical News Today recently reported that girls who eat more peanut butter during their high school years are less likely to develop benign breast disease by the age of 30 than girls who do not.