Healthy Aging

What the Research Says

Synergistic effects of the nutrients in walnuts, including polyphenols, tocopherols and polyunsaturated fatty acids, may be contributing factors in protecting against the detrimental effects of aging.1 Findings from published animal research suggests that walnut consumption may be associated with improved motor and cognitive behavior in aged animals. Additionally, human studies have shown that the inclusion of walnuts in the diet may improve cardiovascular health, which is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline.

Together, the scientific evidence suggests that including walnuts as part of a healthy diet may play a role in helping to maintain and improve physical and cognitive health as people age. Below is an overview of the scientific research.

Research Information

study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found that eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts (primarily walnuts) was correlated with reduced age-related decline in cognitive function in an older Spanish population (ages 55-80) at high cardiovascular risk.2 This clinical trial was conducted in a subcohort of the PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea (PREDIMED) trial. Participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (15g walnuts, or about 0.5 ounces, 7.5g almonds and 7.5g hazelnuts per day), a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (at least 50g or 4 tablespoons per day) or a low-fat diet (control group). The study found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet with nuts, including walnuts, showed improvements in memory compared to a low-fat diet.

According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests, including those for memory, concentration and information processing speed in adults (ages 20-59 and 60 and older).3 In this retrospective study, cognitive function was consistently greater in adult participants who consumed walnuts, even after adjusting for age, gender, race, education, BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity. Analyses are based on single, 24-hour recalls, which reflect one day of intake for the subjects. This cross-sectional study was the first large representative analysis of walnut intake and cognitive function, and the only study to include all available cognitive data across multiple National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) surveys, representing over 10,000 individuals.

An animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that a diet including walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.4 The research group examined the effects of dietary supplementation with 6 percent or 9 percent walnuts in mice (equivalent to 1 ounce and 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day in humans) compared to a control diet with no walnuts. The study found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, anxiety reduction, and motor development in mice fed a walnut-enriched diet. This research stemmed from a previous cell culture study that highlighted the protective effects of walnut extract against the oxidative damage caused by amyloid beta protein, the major component of amyloid plaques that form in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.5 Findings from animal and cell studies are provided as background and used to formulate hypotheses for additional research needed to determine the effects on humans.

Physical Function

Findings published in the Journal of Nutrition suggest that consumption of one to two servings of walnuts per week (1 ounce per serving) was associated with reduced risk of developing impairments in physical function in older women, which may help to maintain independence throughout the aging process.6 Researchers looked at data from 54,762 women in the prospective Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked women for more than 30 years. This paper emphasized that overall diet quality, rather than individual foods, may have a greater impact on reducing risk of physical function impairments. Specifically, diet quality traits most associated with reduced rates of incident physical impairment were higher intake of fruits and vegetables; lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium; and moderate alcohol intake. Among food components, the strongest relations were found for increased intakes of walnuts, oranges, orange juice, apples, pears and romaine or leaf lettuce.

Residual confounding cannot be ruled out (i.e., other lifestyle habits which are more common in adults who eat walnuts could contribute to the study results) and findings cannot prove causality in observational studies. 2,6 More research is also needed to clarify how the health benefits apply to other populations.2,6 In the context of a Mediterranean diet, it is difficult to precisely define what part of the diet is associated with cognitive health.2

Loose California Walnuts

Healthy Aging Research

View peer-reviewed publications supported by the California Walnut Commission.

Food for Thought: The Role of Walnuts in Cognitive Function and Healthy Aging

Read more about the growing body of research on walnuts and physical function, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Walnut Brain

Healthy Aging Benefits & The Role of Walnuts

Research suggests that walnuts may play a positive role in maintaining physical function throughout the aging process in women. Watch this video to learn more.

1Poulose SM, Miller MG, Shukitt-Hale B. Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age. J Nutr. 2014;144(4 Suppl):561S-566S.

2Valls-Pedret C, Sala-Vila A, Serra-Mir M, et al. Mediterranean diet and age-related cognitive decline: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7)1094-103.

3Arab L, Ang A. A cross sectional study of the association between walnut consumption and cognitive function among adult us populations represented in NHANES. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015;19(3):284-90.

4Muthaiyah B, Essa MM, Lee M, et al. Dietary supplementation of walnuts improves memory deficits and learning skills in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;42(4):1397-405.

5Chauhan N, Wang KC, Wegiel J, et al. Walnut extract inhibits the fibrillization of amyloid beta-protein, and also defibrillizes its preformed fibrils. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2004;1(3):183-8.

6Hagan KA, Chiuve SE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Greater adherence to the alternative healthy eating index is associated with lower incidence of physical function impairment in the nurses’ health study. J Nutr. 2016;146(7):1341-47. 

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