Walnuts May Help Fight Alzheimer's Disease

Carrot cake with walnuts
Carrot cake with walnuts

A new study published in the October Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease indicates that a diet including walnuts may help reduce the risk, delay the onset, slow the progression of and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Research led by Abha Chauhan, head of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities (IBR), found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety and motor development in mice fed a walnut-enriched diet.

The researchers suggest that the high antioxidant content of walnuts may have been a contributing factor in protecting the mouse brain from the degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Oxidative stress and inflammation are prominent features in this disease, which afflicts more than 5 million Americans.

“These findings are very promising and help lay the groundwork for future human studies on walnuts and Alzheimer’s disease — a disease for which there is no known cure,” Chauhan said. “Our study adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the protective effects of walnuts on cognitive functioning.”

The research group examined the effects of dietary supplementation on mice with 6 percent or 9 percent walnuts, which are equivalent to 1 ounce and 1.5 ounces per day, respectively, of walnuts in humans. This research stemmed from a previous cell culture study led by Chauhan, which highlighted the protective effects of walnut extract against the oxidative damage caused by amyloid beta protein. This protein is the major component of amyloid plaques that form in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Walnuts have other nutritional benefits, as they contain numerous vitamins and minerals and are the only nut that contains a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce), an omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain-health benefits. The researchers also suggest that ALA may have played a role in improving the behavioral symptoms seen in the study.

Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds, and the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are expected to rapidly escalate in coming years as the baby boom generation ages. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million. Estimated total healthcare-related payments in 2014 for all individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are $214 billion.

Easy enough to toss some walnuts on your salad, throw them in your oatmeal and add them to your brownies — while you can still remember to do so.


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