As a new mother, is there anything I can do to reduce the risk that my child will develop a peanut allergy? Should I avoid eating peanuts while breastfeeding?
Right now, there's no evidence to suggest that anything you eat, either during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, has any bearing on whether your child will develop a peanut allergy.
A report in the January 2008 issue of the journal Pediatrics offered an update on the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics on how nutritional choices may affect the development of food allergies, asthma or atopic dermatitis (all "atopic" diseases) early in life. Although as recently as 2000 the academy suggested that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid peanuts, studies since that time just haven't shown a relationship between the mother's diet and a child's development of the allergy.
More recently, you may have heard about a possible treatment for children who already have a peanut allergy. Researchers presented their findings of a five-year pilot study of 33 children at the March 2009 meeting of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. In the study, researchers began exposing children with peanut allergies to tiny amounts of peanut (beginning with about 1/1000th of a peanut) and gradually increasing the amount to the equivalent of about 15 peanuts a day. Most are tolerating the treatment, indicating that they wouldn't have a severe allergic reaction if they accidentally ate something with a small amount of peanut protein in it. Five even stopped participating in the study because they could comfortably eat peanuts in their regular diet. However, four others dropped out of the study because their systems couldn't tolerate the small amount of peanut protein in the treatment.
Under no circumstances should anyone try this sort of experiment on their own. People who are allergic can have severe, even fatal reactions to peanuts -- in fact, nearly half of the 150 deaths caused by food allergies annually in the United States are caused by peanut allergies. But still, this research and similar studies offer hope that a treatment may become available in the next few years.
In the meantime, it's important for anyone with an allergy to peanuts to avoid consuming any sort of peanut protein. For more information, see the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network's Web site at http://www.foodallergy.org/allergens/peanut.html. For links to more extensive information on food allergies, see the National Institute of Healthâ€™s Medline Plus site at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/foodallergy.html.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Shertzer, registered dietitian and program specialist for Ohio State University Extension in the Department of Human Nutrition, in the College of Education and Human Ecology.