Walnuts against stress

October 14, 2010 by  

Here is another autumn health superstar that we shouldn’t forget about: WALNUTS.

This nut that closely resembles the brain has been shown to be good for heart health, a delicious brain food, and may even have some anti-cancer properties.

Latest research shows that walnuts may also be a great ally against stress that in turn adversely affects cardiovascular health. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University studied 22 health adults who were provided specially planned meals for 6 weeks (source: WebMD). Three types of diets were tested, as follows:

An “average American diet which did not include nuts

  • A diet with some fat and protein substituted with 1.3 ounces of walnuts (about 18 walnut halves) and a tablespoon of walnut oil.
  • A diet with some fat and protein substituted with walnuts, walnut oil, and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil

Stress levels and blood pressure were measured at the end of each intervention.

Researcher and study author Dr. Sheila G. West explains the objective of the study:

“People who show an exaggerated biological response to stress are at higher risk of heart disease. We wanted to find out if omega 3-fatty acids from plant sources would blunt cardiovascular responses to stress.”

The results showed positive results in favor of diet rich in walnuts. Walnuts and walnut oil lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress by 2 to 3 points.

Dr. West continues:

“This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress says. This is important because we can’t avoid all the stressors in our daily lives. [The study] shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress.”

Indeed, many studies have shown that stress is very bad for cardiovascular health and promotes the development and progression of heart disease. There are many recommended interventions to reduce stress including physical exercise, yoga, some types of martial arts (e.g. tai chi) and music therapy. A healthy diet is also known to help counteract stressors and it seems that walnuts are one of them.

In addition, flaxseed oil added to the walnuts in the study also added improvement to vascular health. Flaxseed oil is another source of fat that is good for the heart. It seems that walnuts and flaxseed oil in our diet might be an unbeatable combination against stress and cardiovascular disease.

Nuts and berries clean up the aging brain

August 31, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

In Germany, there is a snack called “Studentenfutter” which can be translated into English as “students’ food”. It simply consists of different nuts, raisins and other dried fruit. There are lots of explanation as to how the snack got its name. One is that it is cheap and therefore a favourite among students on a tight budget. Another is that it is a very handy snack – packed in a little plastic bag that can fit in pockets of jeans and jackets– and is therefore ideal for on-the-go students. My favourite explanation, however, is that the snack gives the much needed extra brain power for students during the exams period.

Recent evidence from research studies indicates that there is some truth to the 3rd explanation. It seems that certain compounds found in nuts and berries may have positive effects on the brain. These compounds supposedly “activate the brain’s natural “housekeeper” mechanism that cleans up and recycles toxic proteins.” The result is the slowing down of memory loss and mental decline that comes with aging.

According to Dr. Shibu Poulose, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (source WebMD):

“The good news is that natural compounds called polyphenols found in fruits, vegetables and nuts have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that may protect against age-associated decline.”

In aging brain tissue, waste products accumulate with time. Due to this build up, the brain cells that are supposed to clean up the waste become overactivated and can cause damage to healthy cells. The polyphenols in the berries, however, come to the rescue and restore normal cleaning up function. Poulose and his team of researchers demonstrated this in a study using mouse brain tissue.

Among the berries, blueberries, strawberries and acai berries are especially rich in polyphenols whereas walnuts are the champions among nuts. This is rather timely considering that it is the season for berries and nuts. The berries season is about to end and the nuts are about to fall.

However, polyphenols can also be found in other fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep red, orange, or blue pigments. Thus, even when the berries go out of season, we still have tomatoes to supply us with polyphenols the whole year round.

As to walnuts, the shelled nut closely resembles the brain, doesn’t it? At any rate, each time I see a walnut, I would remember that this nut is a good brain food and pop it into my mouth. Walnuts keep longer than berries and are available always in the supermarket.

So next time you find yourself forgetting something, maybe your brain just needs some cleaning up. And you know just what foods to eat to get the job done right.

Photo credit: wikicommons

Walnuts may help against prostate cancer

April 7, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Good old walnuts, the well-known brain food, have some other health benefits not previously reported before. Californian scientists report that walnuts may be a strong weapon against prostate cancer as demonstrated in animal studies. The researchers used lab mice genetically modified to developed prostate cancer. One group of animal was fed an equivalent of 14 shelled walnuts each day for two months. Another group was fed with soybean oil at a similar dose. The researchers observed that the prostate cancer in walnut-fed animals was reduced in size and growth rate. The size was on average 50% smaller and the growth rate 30% slower than the soybean-fed mice. The walnut-fed animals also had lower levels of the insulin-like protein growth-factor 1. High levels of this protein are an indicator of increased risk of prostate cancer.

According to head researcher Dr. Paul Davis:

We decided to use whole walnuts in the diet because when a single component of a food linked to cancer prevention has been tested as a supplement, that food’s cancer-preventative effects disappear in most cases.”

So what do walnuts have that helps fight cancer? D. Davis’ team reports that walnuts contain a wide range of health compounds that include omega-3 fatty acids, gamma tocopherol (a form of vitamin E), polyphenols, and antioxidants.

Previous research studies have shown that walnut is also beneficial for cardiovascular health by reducing levels of endothelin, a compound linked to inflammation and atherosclerosis.

Dr. Davis continues:

Walnuts should be part of a prostate-healthy diet. They should be part of a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.”

Indeed, the importance of diet in cancer prevention is a well-known fact but there is little practical advice for those who wish to alter their diet for the better. By testing specific food stuffs, scientists hope to pinpoint which food in the diet are most beneficial and thus optimize preventive measures. The next step is to validate whether the benefits of walnuts can be extrapolate to humans.

According to Dr Helen Rippon, Head of Research Management at The Prostate Cancer Charity

“This new research, which is yet to be fully peer reviewed, does provide new clues about the development of prostate cancer and how a man’s diet might help prevent the disease by regulating their hormone levels and the way that genes work. However it is far too early to say whether walnuts can prevent prostate cancer in men as well as these special, genetically modified mice.

Nonetheless, dietary modification is still of great interest in prostate cancer prevention, particularly as it involves men taking action to support their own health. Nuts are a rich source of nutrients and should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. However, over-consumption is not to be recommended because of their high content of saturated fat, which could cause other health problems like obesity – itself a risk factor for many cancers.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.