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Can Walnuts Help Lower Your Cholesterol?


Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, largely as a result of poor diets that contribute to high cholesterol. The addition of healthy omega-3 fatty acids to your diet could be one way to reduce your risk. According to recent research from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, this is as simple as eating just a half cup of walnuts every day.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for several important functions, including reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Your body does not make omega-3 fatty acids on its own, so you need to get them from your diet. While the most common source of omega-3s is fish, you can also get them from nuts.

A growing body of evidence already suggests that omega-3 fatty acids support the heart by helping to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels and slowing the buildup of plaque in the arteries. A new 2-year study at the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona took a closer look at the targeted benefit of eating walnuts every day to help lower HDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. 

Three hundred sixty-three participants, aged 63-79 years and with no significant health conditions, participated in the study. Half of the participants were instructed not to eat any walnuts, and the other incorporated half a cup of raw walnuts into their daily diet. Participants were monitored for weight changes and to ensure they were sticking with their diet. 

Each month cholesterol levels were analyzed using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Among the walnut-consuming group, researchers found:

♦ LDL cholesterol levels were reduced by 4.3mg/dl.

♦ Total cholesterol levels were reduced by an average of 8.5 mg/dl.

♦ Total LDL particle count was reduced by 4.3%

♦ Small LDL particle count was reduced by 6.1%.

♦ LDL levels were reduced on average by 7.9% for men and 2.6% for women.

Man cracking walnuts open

While research has already shown a connection between nuts and heart health, this study gives additional insight into the target antiatherogenic benefits of walnuts. Regularly eating walnuts can improve the quality of LDL particles, rendering them less atherogenic. This means they are less likely to enter arterial walls and form plaques that are the basis of many cardiovascular diseases.

Lead researchers attribute these benefits to the optimal composition of nutrients in walnuts. The vegetable omega-3 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid content in walnuts are the highest of all nuts, making them ideal for heart health. Cardiologists on the team recognize that the drop in cholesterol is beneficial but not enough for nuts to replace cholesterol-lowering medications.

The results of this study will guide future developments of natural and effective alternative treatments for lowering cholesterol. The next step for this Barcelona team is to conduct a similar study among patients with heart disease, hoping that small dietary changes can provide essential support for those struggling to manage cholesterol levels and chronic conditions. 

Journal reference:

Rajaram S, et al. Effects of Walnut Consumption for 2 Years on Lipoprotein Subclasses Among Healthy Elders: Findings From the WAHA Randomized Controlled Trial. Circulation. 2021 Aug 30.