Prevention is certainly the best medicine of all and there is much we can do to improve our risk factors and even prevent heart disease through dietary and lifestyle changes. Because of its influence on blood pressure and increase in inflammatory markers for heart disease, stress is something that we should strive to reduce or avoid.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done - limiting our exposure to stress along with its harmful effects to our heart is not always completely under our control. With that in mind, researchers at Penn State took a different approach asking whether or not walnuts might be able to reduce stress before it has a chance to impact your heart.
Many studies have been conducted which support that foods which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, are heart healthy. These foods have been shown to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol as well as other inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein. In the Penn State study, researchers explored whether or not Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically walnuts, walnut oil and flax oil, would also reduce the body’s reaction to stress by lowering resting blood pressure rates and blood pressure under stress as well. (The study was limited to exploring the effect of Omega-3 from plant and not animal sources.)
The research study was small consisting of 22 adults, all of whom had high levels of bad cholesterol. The study consisted of three six-week diet phases, with a week break in-between phases, and a different diet used during each phase. The diets used consisted of:
• Diet 1: No nuts in the diet; “average” US diet
• Diet 2: One tablespoon of walnut oil and 1.3 ounces of walnuts daily were substituted for some of the fats and proteins from the average US diet
• Diet 3: Walnuts, walnut oil, plus 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil added daily
All three diets contained the same amount of calories and were specific to the individual. For purposes of this study, a serving consisted of about nine whole walnuts. All participants underwent two separate stress tests at the end of each diet phase and were monitored for blood pressure levels.