FOLSOM, Calif. — According to a new epidemiological study, women in their late 50s and early 60s who consumed at least two servings of walnuts per week had a greater likelihood of healthy aging compared to those who did not eat walnuts. After accounting for various factors that could impact health in older adults, such as education and physical activity, walnuts were the only nut associated with significantly better odds of healthy aging.
In this study, which was supported by the California Walnut Commission, “healthy aging” was defined as longevity with sound mental health and no major chronic diseases, cognitive issues or physical impairments following the age of 65. Researchers found a significant association between total nut consumption (including walnuts, peanuts and other nuts) and healthy aging, but the link was particularly robust for walnuts.
By 2034, for the first time ever, older adults will outnumber children. Baby boomers (those 65 and older) are expected to make up 21% of the population, with more than half being women. The significance of this demographic turning point in our country’s history is clear – research that examines the aging process, including simple, low-cost interventions like healthy food choices, will be especially crucial to healthier lifespans.
Previous research from primary investigator Dr. Francine Grodstein, formerly of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has found that eating walnuts may have a positive impact on reducing the risk for physical impairments in older adults as well as cognitive decline. Additionally, others in the same research group have found decreases in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes – all conditions that become more common as we age. There is no one solution to slowing down the effects of aging, but adopting the right habits, like snacking on a handful of walnuts, can help.
In this study, Grodstein looked at data from 33,931 women in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) to evaluate the association between nut consumption and overall health and well-being in aging. Between 1998-2002, female nurses in the NHS were asked about their diet (including total nut consumption); evaluated for chronic diseases (such as cancer, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease); and assessed for memory concerns, mental health and physical limitations (including daily activities like walking one block, climbing a flight of stairs, bathing, dressing oneself and pushing a vacuum cleaner). Of the study participants, 16% were found to be “healthy agers,” defined as having no major chronic diseases, reported memory impairment or physical disabilities as well as having intact mental health.
Although previous research has connected a healthy diet, including walnuts, to better physical function among older men and women, this study only included women. More research is needed to understand if these results hold true among men. Additionally, participants were not assigned to eat walnuts or other foods; they were simply asked about their dietary choices. It is possible that subjects misreported their dietary intake since this information was collected by questionnaires. As an observational study, this does not prove cause and effect. However, this research sheds light on simple habits that can influence health during later years in life – such as eating walnuts.
The California Walnut Commission (CWC) supported this research. The CWC has supported health-related research on walnuts for more than 30 years with the intent to provide knowledge and understanding of the unique health benefits associated with consuming walnuts. While the CWC does provide funds and/or walnuts for various projects, all studies are conducted independently by researchers who design the experiments, interpret the results and present evidence-based conclusions. The CWC is committed to scientific integrity of industry-funded research.
The California walnut industry is made up of over 4,800 growers and more than 90 handlers (processors). The growers and handlers are represented by two entities, the California Walnut Board (CWB) and the California Walnut Commission (CWC).
California Walnut Commission
The California Walnut Commission, established in 1987, is funded by mandatory assessments of the growers. The CWC represents over 4,800 growers and approximately 90 handlers (processors) of California walnuts in export market development activities and conducts health research. The CWC is an agency of the State of California that works in concurrence with the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
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