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The Twitterverse is abuzz with retweets of a new study that found women who eat peanuts during their pregnancy may have babies with an increased risk of peanut allergies. The news is enough of a downer to cause any mom-to-be to stop snacking on peanut butter and crackers and toss the whole jar of evilness into the trash can.
But wait a second. Evidence of the effects of eating peanuts during pregnancy is pretty limited and inconsistent. “There are only a handful of studies, and a couple of them suggest that maternal ingestion of peanut is a risk factor, but a few say there is no effect,” says Scott Sicherer, M.D., the author of the new study and professor of pediatrics at the Jaffee Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. To make matters more confusing, the American Academy of Pediatrics has flipflopped on its advice to pregnant moms. First, moms should avoid peanuts; now the AAP says there’s not enough evidence to recommend avoiding nuts.
This latest study does provide some useful information and may move the argument a baby step in one direction. Researchers evaluated about 500 infants with allergies to milk or eggs or with significant eczema (a common sign of allergies) and found that infants whose mothers ate peanuts more than twice a week during pregnancy were more sensitive to peanuts than those whose mothers ate peanuts less often. Being sensitive to peanuts is a strong predictor of peanut allergies but isn’t a guarantee. This study may only apply to children with an increased risk of allergies -- researchers admit that more research is needed before they’d recommend that all moms-to-be avoid peanuts.
At the other end of the argument is a theory that exposing infants to peanuts at an early age -- or while in utero -- actually has a protective effect. This line of thinking comes from a well-regarded study that compared the rate of peanut allergies in Jewish children in the United Kingdom to Jewish children in Israel, where peanuts are a staple of a baby’s diet. The study found that the children in the UK were 10 times more likely to develop peanut allergies than those in Israel, suggesting that delaying the introduction of peanuts actually raised the risk of allergies.
So what does this mean for moms? Sicherer says it’s to early to say. “The good part of that conclusion is that mothers should not have a guilty feeling about their past diet decisions and whatever they feel comfortable doing is reasonable,” he says. Bottom line: If you and your partner don't have a family history of peanut allergies, it's probably safe to have peanuts -- in moderation -- while you're pregnant. Talk to your doctor in greater detail to find out what's right for you.
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