Eating nuts whilst pregnant could stop children developing asthma

Eating nuts during pregnancy can reduce the risk of children developing asthma, according to research carried out by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Bostonand the Statens Serum Institute of Copenhagen, Denmark.

In the study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers examined the relationship between nut intake during pregnancy, and allergic disease outcomes, in early and later childhood of their offspring. The study was published in the peer reviewed Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

In the past women had been advised to avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy and while breast feeding, if they or the father had a family history of allergic conditions. Parents were also recommended not to give peanuts to children, until they are at least three years old to avoid sensitisation.

But in 2008 the Food Safety Agency (FSA), recommended the advice be dropped, after increasing expert advice and scientific evidence, that avoiding peanuts in early life was making the allergy problem worse. The advice had been in place since 1998 and was partly blamed for the rise of nut hysteria, with parents and children becoming increasingly worried about exposure to peanuts.

Now the Department of Health says, “Women can choose to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts, as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless mothers are allergic to them, or they have been advised not to by their health professional.”

Between 1996 and 2002, Danish women were enrolled in the study during their first antenatal visit. This study included 61,908 women who had a single baby and who had completed all questionnaires.

A 360 item food frequency questionnaire was given at around 25 weeks of pregnancy. This asked about snack consumption in the past month, separately assessing peanut and pistachio intake and the intake of nuts and almonds. Women were questioned about childhood asthma when the child was 18 months and 7 years old.

At 18 months they were asked whether a diagnosis of childhood asthma had been confirmed by a doctor, whether there were wheeze symptoms, and the number of wheeze episodes since birth. At 7 years of age, asthma cases were defined as those who self-reported doctor diagnosed asthma, plus wheezing symptoms in the past 12 months. The presence of other allergies, such as hay fever, was also reported at 7 years of age.

The researchers then looked at the association between nut consumption and the development of asthma, wheezing, or other allergies. The results were that a total of 61% of women (37,323) reported no peanut and tree nut intake during pregnancy, 3% of women (1,639) consumed peanuts one or more times per week, and 9% consumed tree nuts one or more times per week.

The researchers found a general inverse relationship between peanut or tree nut consumption and asthma at 18 months. There was a trend that consumption of peanuts and tree nuts, once monthly and two to three times monthly, significantly reduced risk of asthma compared to no consumption.

In conclusion the researchers stated that, “the results do not suggest that women should decrease peanut and tree nut intake during pregnancy, and that consumption of peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy, might even decrease the risk of allergic disease development in children.”

This conclusion was backed up by Malayka Rahman, research analysis and communications officer at Asthma UK, who said, “This study suggests that eating peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy, might decrease the risk of children developing allergic conditions, including asthma.”

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