A friend of mine is deathly allergic to all kinds of nuts. She was the fourth grade teacher at the local school, and whenever they had potlucks and staff lunches, the teachers reminded each other not to bring foods with nuts or to clearly label them and keep them away from her.

These types of allergies can make life difficult, though thousands of people have been able to live with them without suffering deadly attacks. Having a child with a serious food allergy can be scary, but a new study has shown that mothers can help protect their children against certain food allergies by eating specific foods and supplements during pregnancy.

A study published in in the September 2011 edition of The Journal of Physiology says that mothers who take walnut, fish, and flaxseed oil supplements or eat a high quantity of walnuts, fish, and flaxseed are more likely to have children who are immune to nut and shellfish allergies.

The protection is not found in these foods, but rather it’s found in the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) they contain. It’s thought that these PUFAs improve how the immune cells found in the gut react to bacteria and other foreign substances, which can help fend off allergies.

In previous studies, it was found that walnut and fish oil helped stave off allergies to certain foods, but why they helped wasn’t understood. With this new study, researchers how have an idea of how the process works.

Dr. Gaëlle Boudry, of the INRA research institute in Rennes, France, says "There is intense research interest in maternal diet during pregnancy. In the western diet, the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that we have shown to help gut function are actually disappearing -- our dietary intake of fish and nut oils is being replaced by corn oils which contain a different kind of fatty acid."

The research team found that n-3PUFA helps a newborn’s gut to be more permeable, which in turn helps bacteria and other new substances to pass through the lining of the stomach into the bloodstream more easily. When this happen, the new substances trigger the baby’s immune response and cause it to produce antibodies. After this, the immune system may develop faster and make a baby more resilient to allergies.

"Other studies have found that a diet containing fish or walnut oil during pregnancy may make your baby smarter -- our research adds to this, suggesting such supplements also accelerate the development of a healthy immune system to ward off food allergies,” says Dr. Boudry.

Source: Wiley-Blackwell (2011, September 9). Mother's diet influences baby's allergies, research suggests. ScienceDaily.