October 5/Washington/Philippines News Agency (PNA) -- A diet rich in walnuts and walnut oil may prepare the body to deal better with stress, according to a report released by a team of Pennsylvania State University researchers.
Previous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids -- like the alpha linolenic acid found in walnuts and flax seeds -- can reduce low density lipoproteins (LDL) -- bad cholesterol. These foods may also reduce c-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation.
"People who show an exaggerated biological response to stress are at higher risk of heart disease," said Sheila G. West, associate professor of biobehavioral health. "We wanted to find out if omega 3-fatty acids from plant sources would blunt cardiovascular responses to stress."
The researchers studied 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL cholesterol. All meals and snacks were provided during three diet periods of six weeks each.
The researchers found that including walnuts and walnut oil in the diet lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory. Participants gave a speech or immersed their foot in cold water as a stressor. Adding flax seed oil to the walnut diet did not further lower blood pressure. They report their findings in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
"This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress," said West. "This is important because we can't avoid all of the stressors in our daily lives. This study shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress."
A subset of the participants also underwent a vascular ultrasound in order to measure artery dilation. Results showed that adding flax oil to the walnut diet significantly improved this test of vascular health. The flax plus walnuts diet also lowered c-reactive protein, indicating an anti-inflammatory effect. According to West, that could also reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Walnuts are a rich source of fiber, antioxidants, and unsaturated fatty acids, particularly alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, and these compounds could be responsible for the beneficial effects on blood pressure. Flax oil is a more concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids than walnut oil, but this study did not test whether flax oil alone could blunt cardiovascular responses to stress.
From the October 18, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition