To Your Health
October, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 10)
Kudos to the Entire Nut Family
When it comes to nuts, the Penn State folks have some serious competition from the old timers in the nut research world. In the past few months, Dr. Joan Sabaté from California, the state that according to the advertisements, is "where the real nuts live," has had two papers published that pretty much quash all questions about nuts and health.
Sabaté's first study on walnuts, way back in 1993, was one of the original nut papers, so we are definitely not talking about a newcomer to the game. One of her new papers is a meta-analysis, a combination of the numbers derived from 25 different nut studies. The second new paper is a review of the epidemiologic studies on nuts; that is, it combines the information that's been gathered from looking at eating habits and disease patterns of large populations of people. A meta-analysis totally trumps any individual trial or study.
The May 10, 2010 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine published the Sabaté analysis of combined nut trials. Data from 25 nut-eating experiments conducted in seven countries with 583 total participants were combined together to make calculations. On average, each person in the experiments ate just over 2 ounces of nuts (67 grams) a day. Their levels of total cholesterol dropped by 5 percent, on average; their LDL dropped by 7 percent. What's more, their LDL/HDL ratio decreased by 8 percent and total cholesterol/HDL ratio dropped 6 percent. Triglyceride levels decreased 10.2 percent in people who had started out with high cholesterol. These numbers are impressive, although not as dramatic as the pistachio study, because not all the people in these studies started out with high cholesterol.
However, Sabaté had another paper published the very same month that reviewed five large epidemiologic studies and determined that for every serving of nuts a person eats in a week, they reduce their odds of dying of heart disease by 8 percent. So much for Penn State.
But before we jump to the conclusion that California wins when it comes to nuts, we've got to look to the Turks. Back in April, a team from Turkey reported on its own pistachio trial. Using a local home-turf advantage, they started their 32 study participants on a Mediterranean diet for a month and then added pistachios for another month. (Maybe the Mediterranean diet primed the participants to do better?) Regardless, once on the pistachios, LDL dropped by 23 percent, total cholesterol by 21 percent and triglycerides by 14 percent. If this really were a competition, the team from Turkey would be in the lead.
This isn't a game, though, because the winners are all of us. Too many people have their lives cut short by atherosclerosis. It's great to know that something as simple as eating nuts can reduce the incidence of heart disease. In years past, some medical authorities may have argued that "we should wait until there is more data" before changing our diets, but that time is past. It now seems reasonable and prudent to make the change and eat more nuts starting today. Talk to your doctor about the health benefits of pistachios and other nuts, and include them as part of a well-rounded diet.
Jacob Schor, ND, is a naturopathic physician practicing in Denver. He is a member of the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. To learn more about Dr. Schor, visit www.denvernaturopathic.com/index.html.