A handful of walnuts each day may improve your memory, according to recent research from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The research, which found that eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests, including those for memory, concentration and information processing speed, could prove important as the aging population has been targeted with concerns of escalating diagnoses of dementia. According to the World Health Organization, the estimated number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is approaching 8 million, and the number of people living with the disease worldwide has topped 35 million. Experts predict this number will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
Though this study was not a cause and effect investigation, it is the first large representative analysis of walnut intake and cognitive function. Researchers matched available cognitive data to findings from multiple National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) surveys. The NHANES surveys draw from a large sampling of the U.S. population. Participants included adults older than 20 and the study found those—regardless of age, gender or ethnicity—with higher walnut consumption performed significantly better on a series of six cognitive tests.
“It is exciting to see the strength of the evidence from this analysis across the U.S. population supporting the previous results of animal studies that have shown the neuroprotective benefit from eating walnuts; and it’s a realistic amount—less than a handful per day (13 grams),” said study lead Lenore Arab, Ph.D.
Experts say there are a number of active ingredients in walnuts that may be contributing factors in protecting cognitive function. Walnuts have a high antioxidant content, and they are the only nut with a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain benefits.
“The study adds to a growing body of research surrounding walnuts’ positive effect on reducing cognitive impairment and overall brain health, which includes the possible beneficial effects of slowing or preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models,” Arab said. “It isn’t every day that research results in such simple advice: Eating a handful of walnuts daily as a snack, or as part of a meal, can help improve your cognitive health.”