Study participants (healthy men and women) consumed walnuts as part of their normal diet, for an eight-week period. While eating walnuts, study participants reduced intake of saturated fat and increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, resulting in beneficial changes in their lipid profile. Walnuts are comprised predominately of polyunsaturated fat and are one of the few foods that offer an excellent source of the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid -- 2.5g/oz..
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and is responsible for one in every four deaths in the United States. Coronary heart disease alone costs the U.S. $108.9 billion each year. A healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet play an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. "These diseases usually develop as a result of a number of different risk factors among which lipid factors such as non-HDL cholesterol5 and apolipoprotein B6 (ApoB) are the most important. Our study has shown that people can benefit from supplementing their diet with walnuts, which helps reduce these risk parameters," says lead investigator Dr. Klaus Parhofer.
Past research in countries throughout the world, including the U.S., Spain, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, suggests walnut consumption can be a powerful tool in improving heart health markers. Studies in a variety of populations have reported walnuts to decrease LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure, two other major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD). In addition, walnuts have been shown to improve endothelial function, decrease both oxidative stress and markers of inflammation, and increase cholesterol efflux. The effect of walnuts on multiple CVD targets over relatively short periods of time supports recommendations for their inclusion in a heart healthy diet.
The research surrounding the cardiovascular benefits of walnuts is so extensive that in 2004 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved one of the first qualified health claims for a whole food. In addition, the European Union recently officially acknowledged the cardiovascular benefits of walnuts with the acceptance of three generic and one walnut-specific health claim stating that "walnuts contribute to the improvement of the elasticity of the blood vessels" which is a key factor for cardiovascular health. Walnuts were the only nut to receive such health claims.
Cardiologist Dr. James Beckerman of the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Oregon recommends walnuts to his patients. "Diet is a key component in the fight against heart disease. Walnuts are a unique nutrient-dense package offering abundant heart health benefits that I urge my patients to consume to help protect their heart and improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart health blood lipid levels."