Wellness Wednesday: Eating Walnuts Can Improve Cognitive Function

“It isn’t every day that research results in such simple advice: Eating a handful of walnuts daily as a snack, or as part of a meal, can help improve your cognitive health.”   Dr. Lenore Arab.

Adding walnuts to your diet may help boost your memory according to a new Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report. Researchers found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function. The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neuro-degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

Diets containing two percent, six percent, or nine percent walnuts, when given to old rats, were found to reverse several parameters of brain aging, as well as age-related motor and cognitive deficits, says James Joseph, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston. The study adds to a growing body of research surrounding walnuts’ positive effect on reducing cognitive impairment and overall brain health, which includes the possible beneficial effects of slowing or preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models. Experts say that there are numerous possible active ingredients in walnuts that may be contributing factors in protecting cognitive functions.

Dr. Lenore Arab from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests, including those for memory, concentration, and information processing speed. He found that cognitive function was consistently greater in adult participants who consumed walnuts, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. The finding is important as the aging of the baby boomer generation brings concerns of escalating diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The increase in diagnoses can be linked to molecules, known as free radicals, which can harm brain cells and brain function. The present research extends these findings and shows that the antioxidant properties in walnuts wage war against the the free radicals, lessening the damage. Walnuts have a high antioxidant content (3.7 mmol/ounce), and they are the only nut that contains a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain-health benefits. These antioxidants may actually block the signals produced by free radicals that can later produce compounds that would increase inflammation. Findings from the studies by Joseph and his colleague Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD, show for the first time that shorter chain fatty acids found in plants, such as walnuts, may have beneficial effects on cognition similar to those from long chain fatty acids derived from animal sources, which have been reported previously.

A six percent diet is equivalent to a person eating 1 ounce of walnuts each day, which is the recommended amount to reduce harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, while a nine percent diet is equivalent to people eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day. “Importantly,” Joseph says, “this information, coupled with our previous studies, shows that the addition of walnuts, berries, and grape juice to the diet may increase ‘health span’ in aging and provide a ‘longevity dividend’ or economic benefit for slowing the aging process by reducing the incidence and delaying the onset of debilitating degenerative disease.”

If walnuts don’t do it for you, other nuts can give you some pretty great health benefits, too. Dieters who ate pistachios daily brought down both their BMIs and their triglycerides more than those who ate an identical number of calories from pretzels, according to a recent UCLA study. Hazelnuts contain arginine, an amino acid that may lower blood pressure. An ounce of almonds has as many heart-healthy polyphenols as a cup of green tea and 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli combined, and they also may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Sources: http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/nuts-and-health-how-walnuts-can-improve-your-memory

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071106122843.htm

http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/01/22/walnuts-may-improve-memory/80258.html

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