New study: peanuts and pregnancy

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When we found our that our second child, Willow, had a peanut allergy, I wondered “why?”: why did she get it and not my son? Why does my nephew have it and not his siblings? My theories have run from pesticides in the food I consumed while pregnant to my walnut allergy, but I didn’t consider that eating peanuts might have contributed to it.  This week, research published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that “babies born to mothers who eat peanuts during pregnancy appear more prone to peanut allergy.” The  research was conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Mount Sinai, Duke University Medical Center, National Jewish Health Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

According to the John Hopkins Children’s Center, the results showed that “infants whose mothers reported eating peanuts at least twice a week during pregnancy were nearly three times more likely than other infants to have levels of peanut antibodies high enough to suggest a lurking peanut allergy. Of the 503 infants, 3 to 15 months of age, in the study, 28 percent had such blood levels. All infants in the study already had either confirmed or suspected diagnoses of milk or egg allergy.” (Wow! That was the case with my second child too!)

The findings don’t conclude that if a pregnant woman consumes peanuts, her child will develop a peanut allergy, but rather that, “the findings do suggest, however, that peanut eating may be a “priming” mechanism — possibly one of several such mechanisms — for developing peanut allergy.”

“Mom’s peanut consumption during pregnancy appears to be a key primer for allergy in babies who already have the immunologic predisposition for such, but eating peanuts in and of itself is not enough to cause the allergy,” said Robert Wood, M.D.,  co-author on the study and director of Allergy and Immunology at Hopkins Children’s. Indeed, the fact that the children in the study were already allergic to other foods suggests a predisposition to allergies, the investigators emphasize.

While the scientists stop short of recommending complete peanut avoidance during pregnancy, their findings suggest that pregnant women should keep this risk factor in mind when making dietary choices, especially if they have a family history of food allergies.

More statistics: Among the 211 children whose mothers reported eating peanuts at least twice a week, 35 percent had significantly elevated antibodies to peanuts, while 22 percent of the 292 infants whose moms consumed peanuts less than twice a week had such high levels.

I found this particularly interesting: The researchers found that “whether a mother ate peanuts during breastfeeding did not seem to affect a child’s risk for peanut allergy nor did the mode of delivery, whether the baby was breast-fed or formula-fed, and whether a baby was fed soy or milk formula.”

An estimated 1 percent of U.S. children have peanut allergies, which are often lifelong. Past research suggests that peanut allergies are more severe than other food allergies.

Are you looking for a good allergist? We have one in the city, Dr. Ehrlich, that we adore as well as one here in Brooklyn, Dr. Charlot, both whom I put a lot of trust in. We have other recommended pediatric allergists here.

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