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Walnuts are new brain superfood: Research

by Pragati Singh

College students who are anxious about their upcoming exams might want to include walnuts in their regular diet. At a recent clinical study, eating walnuts while in school had a favourable effect on the biomarkers of general health and self-reported indices of mental health in undergraduate students. Walnuts may be able to lessen the damaging effects of academic stress on the gut flora, especially in females, according to a University of South Australia study that was published in the journal Nutrients.

The findings, according to the study’s principal investigators, PhD candidate Mauritz Herselman and Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya, contribute to the expanding body of studies associating walnuts to better gut and brain health.

“Students experience academic stress throughout their studies, which has a negative effect on their mental health, and they are particularly vulnerable during exam periods,” Herselman says.

Clinical evaluations of 80 undergraduate students, divided into treatment and control groups, were place over the course of three intervals: at the start of a 13-week semester at the university, throughout the exam period, and two weeks following the exam period. Over these three intervals, the treatment group was given walnuts to eat every day for 16 weeks.

“We found that those who consumed about half a cup of walnuts every day showed improvements in self-reported mental health indicators. Walnut consumers also showed improved metabolic biomarkers and overall sleep quality in the longer term.”

In the weeks leading up to examinations, students in the control group experienced more stress and despair than those in the treatment group did. In comparison to the controls, the walnut eaters also noted a substantial decline in depressive symptoms between the first and last visits.

Previous studies have demonstrated that walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, melatonin (a hormone that induces sleep), polyphenols, folate, and vitamin E, all of which support brain and gastrointestinal health.

“The World Health Organization has recently stated that at least 75 per cent of mental health disorders affect people under the age of 24 years, making undergraduate students particularly vulnerable to mental health problems,” Herselman says.

According to Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya, mental health issues are widespread among college students and can have a negative impact on both their academic performance and long-term physical health.

“We have shown that consuming walnuts during stressful periods can improve mental health and general well-being in university students, as well as being a healthy and delicious snack and a versatile ingredient in many recipes, to fight some negative effects of academic stress,” Assoc Prof Bobrovskaya says. “Due to fewer numbers of males in the study, more research is needed to establish sex-dependent effects of walnuts and academic stress in university students. It’s also possible that a placebo effect might have come into play as this was not a blind study.”

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