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Nuts and brain health
Nuts and brain health
Nuts have been associated with many improvements in brain health, including better cognitive function, learning, memory and mood.
Eating nuts regularly is good for your brain.
Nut consumption is linked to better cognitive function, reduced risk of depression, better mood, and enhanced memory, learning and attention capacity.
Nuts contain fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which have essential roles in many aspects of brain health.
Several studies have reported that nut consumption is associated with better cognitive performance, with greater benefits observed in those with higher, long-term total nut intake [1, 2] and in those with the highest consumption of nuts.
The PREDIMED trial tested dietary patterns amongst elderly participants at high cardiovascular risk, and found that those who consumed a Mediterranean diet (containing extra virgin olive oil or nuts) had improved cognitive ability, compared to those who had consumed a low-fat diet [3, 4].
Depression and mood
A 2022 systematic review (of 10 previously-published studies, involving more than 66,000 people, across five countries) concluded: “Higher nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of depression and better mood state in the general population” .
Several well-designed studies have found links between nut consumption and a lower risk of depression , including the SMILES intervention trial. This found improvements in rating of depression after 12 weeks of dietary modification (which contained one serve of nuts per day) .
Similar findings were also reported from a large cohort study in Spanish adults, free of depression at baseline . A 23% lower risk of depression was reported among those who consumed from one (30g) serving per month to 5 servings per week, compared with those who ate <1 serving of nuts per month.
Learning and memory
A Spanish study, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, which included more than 2,200 mothers and their children, found children whose mothers ate more nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy, achieved the best results in tests measuring cognitive function, attention capacity and working memory .
The children’s neuropsychological development was assessed at 18 months of age and again at 5 years, and 8 years. Benefits were observed in the group of mothers who reported the highest consumption of nuts – a weekly average of just under three, 30g servings.
Associations with nuts and memory have also been found in older adults .
How key nutrients contribute to brain health
Several factors are known to influence cognitive function including impaired metabolic regulation, oxidative stress and inflammation.
Nut consumption has been linked to a wide range of benefits, including reduced oxidative damage, inflammation and platelet aggregation, as well as better vascular responsiveness and immune functions [9,10,11].
It’s thought that the combination of healthy fats and phytochemicals, and nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in nuts may help protect vital functions of the brain and its blood vessels.
|B-group vitamins||Necessary for the production of specific components of the brain, such as neurotransmitters and cell structure.|
|Polyunsaturated fatty acids||Critical components of neuronal cell membranes, maintaining fluidity and communication between brain cells. And omega-3 fatty acids (a type of PUFA) help reduce oxidative stress.|
|Vitamin E||Directly involved in nervous cell membrane protection through its action as an antioxidant.|
|Magnesium and calcium||Regulation of brain cell communication (neurotransmission).|
|Zinc||Components of enzymes as a structural component of many proteins, hormones, hormone receptors and molecules involved in brain cell communication.|
|Iron||Necessary to ensure oxygenation of the brain, as well as for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin.|
|Trace minerals such as manganese, selenium and copper||Participate in enzymatic mechanisms that protect against free radical damage.|
|Phytonutrients such as flavonoids and carotenoids||Neuroprotective function through its role as an antioxidant.|
|Dietary fibre||Helps reduce inflammation by boosting a healthy gut microbiome.|
- O'Brien, J., et al., Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. J Nutr Health Aging, 2014. 18(5): p. 496-502.
- Koyama, A.K., et al., Evaluation of a Self-Administered Computerized Cognitive Battery in an Older Population. Neuroepidemiology, 2015. 45(4): p. 264-72.
- Valls-Pedret, C., et al., Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med, 2015. 175(7): p. 1094-103.
- Martinez-Lapiscina, E.H., et al., Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 2013. 84(12): p. 1318-25.
- Su, Q., et al., NUT CONSUMPTION IS ASSOCIATED WITH DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS AMONG CHINESE ADULTS. Depress Anxiety, 2016.
- Jacka, F.N., et al., A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 2017. 15(1): p. 23.
- Gignac, F., et al., Maternal nut intake in pregnancy and child neuropsychological development up to 8 years old: a population-based cohort study in Spain. Eur J Epidemiol, 2019.
- Rita Cardoso, B., et al., Effects of Brazil nut consumption on selenium status and cognitive performance in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Eur J Nutr, 2016. 55(1): p. 107-16.
- Pribis, P. and B. Shukitt-Hale, Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014. 100 Suppl 1: p. 347s-52s.
- Casas, R., E. Sacanella, and R. Estruch, The immune protective effect of the Mediterranean diet against chronic low-grade inflammatory diseases. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets, 2014. 14(4): p. 245-54.
- Fernandez-Rodrıguez, R. et al. Does the evidence support a relationship between higher levels of nut consumption, lower risk of depression, and better mood state in the general population? A systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuac022
- Fresan U., et al. Does the MIND diet decrease depression risk? A comparison with Mediterranean diet in the SUN cohort. Eur J Nutr, 2019. 58:1271-82.
Published April 12, 2022