New Study Warns Expectant Mothers Against Avoiding Peanuts During Pregnancy

by Jayashree on Sep 21 2007 11:43 AM

A report by a science and technology committee has warned mothers against avoiding peanuts during pregnancy to help shield babies from allergies.

The report comes after the UK government advised mums to stop eating peanuts during pregnancy and to avoid giving them to kids at an early age.

Reactions can be triggered by exposure to tiny amounts of peanut protein, which is used in many food products from chocolate bars to snacks.

Peanut traces can cause immediate reactions such as hives on the face, blotching around the mouth, choking and wheezing.

A severe reaction called anaphylaxis, can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Current advice recommends avoidance, but scientists now believe that by repeatedly exposing a child's immune system to peanuts the body learns to tolerate the allergens in such products.

The science and technology committee's allergy report is likely to call on the Department of Health to change its official advice.

Ministers have admitted that their guidelines that state that babies may be at a greater risk of developing a allergy against nuts if the mother or father have a history of asthma, eczema or hay fever, may be 'entirely wrong and counter-productive'.

"If your baby is in this higher-risk group, you may wish to avoid eating peanuts and peanut products when you're pregnant and breast-feeding," the Daily Mail quoted the advice, as saying.

The Department of Health goes on to suggest that that these mothers should not add peanuts in their child's diet until the age of three.

But some members of the committee have said that the advice may be 'irresponsible' and may even increase the risk of child allergies.

"It is quite striking that the increase in peanut allergies is rather in step with the increasing Government advice not to expose tiny children to them,” the crossbench peer Lord May of Oxford said.

"In Israel, where peanuts are quite commonly found in baby food, there has been no increase in peanut allergies.”

"That is a fact and the Department of Health needs to take a good hard look at this."

Ministers could change the advice within weeks.

"If the advice is entirely wrong and counterproductive and actually damaging people, then we really need to move rather quickly rather than having ongoing incessant reviews,” Health minister Ivan Lewis said.

"We are going to seek the view of the independent expert committee. Having done that, we will then consider whether the existing advice needs updating, refreshing, completely changing, but we need to consider what the advice tells us,” Lewis added.