It’s no secret that nuts are good for your heart. We know that consuming nuts can dramatically reduce cardiovascular disease risk, but scientists are just beginning to figure out how this works. Scientists recently learned that almonds have a potent antioxidant effect, leading to decreases in circulating oxidized LDL, helping to keep the arteries clear of atherosclerotic plaque.
Like all nuts, walnuts are rich in fiber, minerals, micronutrients, phytosterols, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats, but walnuts stand out because of their distinctively high levels of ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid and precursor to EPA and DHA.
Researchers at Yale University wondered whether walnuts would have beneficial effects on blood vessel function in individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease – those with type 2 diabetes.
Twenty-four subjects with type 2 diabetes were included in the study. Half were assigned to supplement their diets with 2 ounces of walnuts per day for 8 weeks.
The researchers tested flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), which is a measure of how well the endothelial cells, the cells that line all blood vessels, are working to keep blood pressure in a favorable range. One of the endothelial cells’ most important jobs is to produce nitric oxide, which regulates blood pressure by relaxing the muscle in the walls of the arteries.
After 8 weeks of daily walnut consumption, flow-mediated dilatation was improved – the blood vessels were able to dilate more in the subjects who ate walnuts. This is good news for overall cardiovascular disease risk since loss of endothelial function is one of the initiating events in atherosclerotic plaque development.
Want another reason to eat some walnuts? They may also protect against breast cancer and prostate cancer, according to animal studies.
I recommend including a variety of nuts and seeds in a health-promoting diet. As time goes on, we can be sure that scientists will continue to reveal many more health-promoting properties of nuts and seeds.
Dr Fuhrman is a best-selling author and board certified family physician specializing in lifestyle and nutritional medicine. For more information, visit his website at DrFuhrman.com.