A woman can reduce her child’s risk for allergies by eating peanuts during pregnancy, according to a new study. Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts can cause reactions ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening. The rate of peanut allergies among children in the United States tripled between 1997 and 2010. Peanut allergies now affect about 1.4 percent of U.S. children and are one of the most common food allergies in the nation.

An allergic reaction to peanuts or tree nuts can be life-threatening. While most peanut allergies last a lifetime, some children outgrow the allergy. Peanuts and tree nuts are not in the same plant family though allergies to both are common; peanuts (a legume) grow in the ground while tree nuts grow on trees.

Peanut allergies usually develop in early childhood after the first exposure to the nut. Because of the association between early exposure and development of allergies, the researchers wanted to determine if there was a link between a pregnant woman’s consumption of peanuts or tree nuts and her child’s risk for developing allergies to these foods.

The researchers used information gathered in the Nurses' Health Study II, a continuation of one of the largest and longest running health studies in the United States. In all, 8,205 children participated in the study; 308 had food allergies including 140 cases of allergies to peanuts and tree nuts such as cashews, almonds, pecans, and walnuts.

The scientists found that the children whose mothers did not have an allergy and who ate tree nuts and peanuts at least five times a week had the lowest risk for allergies to these substances. Children whose mothers had an allergy, however, did not benefit from maternal consumption of peanuts and tree nuts.

Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors of the study say that early exposure to potential allergens reduces the risk of developing food allergies during childhood. Furthermore, they say their findings support rescinding a recommendation that pregnant women avoid peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The study authors do suggest subsequent research to support their findings.

Source: Ellis, Marie. "Eating peanuts in pregnancy lowers allergy risk for child." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 26 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Jan. 2014.