Eating nuts during pregnancy may lessen children's peer problems, study suggests

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A study has recently been conducted on 5-year-old Japanese children to evaluate the impact of maternal consumption of nuts during pregnancy on the risk of childhood behavioral problems.

The study is published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.

Study: Nut consumption during pregnancy is associated with decreased risk of peer problems in 5-year-old Japanese children. Image Credit: Valentin Valkov / ShutterstockStudy: Nut consumption during pregnancy is associated with decreased risk of peer problems in 5-year-old Japanese children. Image Credit: Valentin Valkov / Shutterstock

Background

Nuts are highly nutritious foods rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, proteins, and dietary fiber. They are also a rich source of vitamins, including folate, niacin, tocopherol, and vitamin B6, as well as minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These macro- and micronutrients are known to have several health benefits.   

In Japan, the Kyushu Okinawa Maternal and Child Health Study (KOMCHS) has reported that a higher maternal intake of vitamin B6 and calcium is associated with a lower risk of emotional problems in 5-year-old Japanese children. Similarly, higher maternal intake of monounsaturated fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, and linoleic acid during pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk of childhood emotional problems.    

Children born to mothers who consume vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium during pregnancy have been found to have a reduced risk of hyperactivity problems. Similarly, an inverse association has been observed between maternal folate intake, vitamin B6, and vitamin C during pregnancy and childhood social behavioral problems.  

In the current study, scientists have analyzed the data obtained from the KOMCHS to determine the relationship between maternal intake of nuts during pregnancy and the risk of childhood behavioral problems.

Study design

The KOMCHS is a multipurpose pre-birth cohort study conducted on pregnant Japanese women between April 2007 and March 2008. The participants took part in eight surveys and completed self-administered questionnaires.

The questionnaires were designed to collect information on maternal sociodemographic characteristics, pregnancy-related queries, maternal dietary habits, infant sex, date of birth, birth weight, and children’s behavioral problems.

Important observations

The current study population included a total of 1,199 mother-child pairs. The analysis of childhood behavioral problems revealed that about 12.9%, 19.4%, 13.1%, 8.6%, and 29.2% of children aged 59 to 71 months experience emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity problems, peer problems, and social behavioral problems, respectively.    

A total of 618 mothers reported consumption of nuts during pregnancy. Among them, the average consumption was 0.8 grams of nuts per day. The proportions of intake of peanuts, other types of nuts, and both peanuts and other types of nuts were 36.2%, 27.3%, and 36.4%, respectively. 

Mothers who consumed nuts during pregnancy were more likely to be older and had a higher intake of total energy and citrus fruits than those who had not consumed nuts during pregnancy.

The analysis conducted after adjusting for potential dietary and non-dietary confounders revealed that children born to mothers who had consumed nuts during pregnancy have a significantly lower risk of peer problems. However, no such association was observed for other tested childhood behavioral problems.

A sensitivity analysis conducted on mothers with low and high nut intakes revealed that the lower risk of childhood peer problems observed in the study does not depend on the amount of nut consumption during pregnancy.  

Study significance

The study finds that maternal intake of nuts during pregnancy reduces the risk of peer problems in 5-year-old Japanese children.

The scientists considered several dietary (citrus fruits, cow milk, total fruits, total vegetables, and total soy products) and non-dietary (maternal age, gestation, maternal sociodemographic features, maternal smoking and alcohol intake habits, breastfeeding duration, and infant’s sex and birth weight) confounding factors in the study. However, they mention that the presence of residual confounders cannot be ignored.

The diet history questionnaires used for dietary assessment could only provide approximate consumption. Moreover, the participants completed these questionnaires somewhere between weeks 5 and 39 of pregnancy. Thus, any changes in the proportion of nut intake throughout the pregnancy may influence the observed association.     

As the scientists mentioned, future studies are needed to understand the mechanistic connection between maternal nut consumption during pregnancy and childhood behavioral problems.

Journal reference:
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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