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Jan 21, 2015 02:06 PM EST

Walnuts May Improve Memory, Concentration


New research suggests that eating walnuts improves cognitive function.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found that consuming walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests, including those for memory, concentration and information processing speed.

"It is exciting to see the strength of the evidence from this analysis across the U.S. population supporting the previous results of animal studies1,2,3 that have shown the neuroprotective benefit from eating walnuts; and it's a realistic amount -- less than a handful per day (13 grams)," Dr. Lenore Arab, who led the study, said in a statement.

There are numerous possible active ingredients in walnuts that may be contributing factors in protecting cognitive functions. This includes the high antioxidant content of walnuts (3.7 mmol/ounce), the combination of numerous vitamins and minerals as well as the fact that they are the only nut that contain a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain-health benefits.

For the study, Arab and his colleages collected and analyzed data across multiple National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) surveys which draw from a large sampling of the U.S. population. 

Researchers found that study participants with higher walnut consumption performed significantly better on a series of six cognitive tests.

he study adds to a growing body of research surrounding walnuts' positive effect on reducing cognitive impairment and overall brain health,4 which includes the possible beneficial effects of slowing or preventing the progression of Alzheimer's disease in mouse models.

As the baby boomer population grows older, conditions affecting memory such as Alzheimer's and dementia will become a greater concern. According to a 2012 World Health Organization article, the estimated number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is nearly 7.7 million, and the number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 35.6 million. This number is predicted to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

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