The study chose babies who had indications of milk or egg allergy, or conspicuous eczema, and showed characteristics that indicated that they could develop peanut allergies also later on in life. Their mothers were asked about their eating habits when they were pregnant, and whether they snacked on peanuts or took them in any other form.
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The study suggested that mothers' consumption of peanuts during pregnancy did have some connection with strongly positive results found for peanut allergy in tests conducted on children, said Dr. Scott Sicherer, a professor of pediatrics at Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. Mothers were inquired about their peanut consumption patterns during pregnancy, before performing tests for peanut allergy in children.
The more peanuts they reported consuming during pregnancy, the higher was the risk of getting a positive or strongly positive result in the peanut allergy tests for their children.
In all, 503 babies were chosen for the study, at five places in the U.S. They were aged 3 to 15 months at the time their mothers were inquired about their peanut consumption patterns during pregnancy. The tests were based on detection of antibodies in blood that would indicate they were going to be allergic to peanuts.
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Based on the test, 140 of them were found having strong possibilities of peanut allergy.
The next step in the study would consist of tracking these children over time to see what happens to them; it will be seen whether they develop peanut allergy or outgrow it, and also what happens to their egg or milk allergy.
Boys, non-whites, and those who had shown higher positive tests for milk or egg allergy, were found to be at greater risk of developing peanut allergy.
However, Sicherer asserted that a positive result in peanut allergy test does not mean a confirmed peanut allergy; many children who test positive are able to outgrow it and eat peanuts without any problems later on.
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A few more years' wait is required to get that much of information, wrote Sicherer, the author of Understanding and Managing Your Child's Food Allergies.
The study results do give more information about food allergies of children, but they don't provide conclusive evidence for pregnant women to decide whether they should continue snacking on peanuts or not.
The results are interesting and do give us more information; however, they don't really give us definitive answers, said Dr. Susan Waserman, professor of medicine, division of clinical immunology and allergy, McMaster University, Hamilton.
The American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended, ten years ago, that women with family history of food allergies should avoid peanut products during pregnancy or while breastfeeding as it might increase the risk of developing peanut allergy in their children.
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However, in spite of the fact that the recommendation is in place for ten years now, the prevalence of peanut allergy has shown an increasing trend with time; obviously avoidance has not made any real difference, said Waserman in an interview.
And in the past few years, the recommendation seems to have lost relevance. People are apt to retort that there really is no evidence that avoidance is effective in prevention.
She cited a comparative study of British and Israeli children done by a British researcher, which noted that peanut allergy was much less prevalent in Israel although Israeli mothers don't avoid peanuts during pregnancy and their children too consume peanuts, as peanut candies, from quite an early age.
So, the studies so far line up evidences on both the sides, and we are still far from a definitive answer; the results of the present study, at best, tell us that the issue is still hanging fire, according to her. Sicherer agreed, saying there really were no certain answers.
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The evidences so far bear out both the sides and it is difficult to say which side is right or whether any definitive influence is born out. I know mothers who had eaten a lot of peanut products during pregnancy and think that was responsible for their children's peanut allergy, while I also know mothers who had avoided peanuts and now wonder where their children got that allergy from, he wrote.
Sicherer's advice for mothers is not to feel guilty about their past dietary habits; whatever diet practices they are comfortable with, are justifiable in the context of study results so far.
Waserman informed that larger studies were on both in the US and Canada, and some answers might be expected in the coming years.