National Healthier Babies Month reminds us that every child deserves a healthy start, and that the womb isn’t too early, especially for mothers who have a history of active allergies.

Food allergies affect young children most and 90% are caused by milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish. The good news is that the majority of kids outgrow their food allergies. The bad news is that for those affected by peanut allergy, this may warrant a lifetime of challenges. Fortunately, research suggests that early allergen exposure might be the key to increasing food allergy tolerance and lowering the risk of peanut or tree nut allergies in children.

A recent prospective cohort study published in JAMA Pediatrics used data from a national study of female nurses (ages of 25 to 42 at recruitment) and integrated information about their pregnancy diets during, shortly before or after pregnancy. Researchers found that the incidences of peanut/ tree nut allergies were significantly lower in the children of non-allergic mothers who ate five or more servings peanut or tree nut per week during their pregnancy than the ones who avoided nuts altogether. Among the 8,205 children studied, 308 were identified as having any food allergy. Out of these, 140 were allergic to nuts.

Previously, doctors advised against eating nuts during pregnancy, fearful that eating them could raise allergy risk. However, due to the surge of peanut allergy cases in the U.S.– tripling from 1997 to 2007 — the medical community was persuaded to rethink its counsel on the matter.  While more research is needed in order to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between peanuts and allergy risk in children, it’s safe to say that eating peanuts during pregnancy doesn’t cause peanut allergies.

Bonus: Eating nuts can promote good skin health. An ounce of walnuts contain double the amount of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids found to help calm and moisten dry, irritated skin as in the flaxseed/borage oils used by German and French scientists.

Published October 1, 2014