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Chronic and acute effects of walnuts on antioxidant capacity and nutritional status in humans: a randomized, cross-over pilot study

Diane L McKay*, C-Y Oliver Chen, Kyung-Jin Yeum, Nirupa R Matthan, Alice H Lichtenstein and Jeffrey B Blumberg

Author Affiliations

Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-21

Published: 12 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Compared with other common plant foods, walnuts (Juglans regia) are consistently ranked among the highest in antioxidant capacity. In vitro, walnut polyphenols inhibit plasma and LDL oxidation, while in animal models they lower biomarkers of oxidative stress and raise antioxidant capacity. A limited number of human feeding trials indicate that walnuts improve some measures of antioxidant status, but not others.

Methods

A 19 wk, randomized crossover trial was conducted in 21 generally healthy men and postmenopausal women ≥50 y to study the dose-response effects of walnut intake on biomarkers of antioxidant activity, oxidative stress, and nutrient status. Subjects were randomized to receive either 21 or 42 g raw walnuts/d during each 6 wk intervention phase with a 6 wk washout between phases. Subjects were instructed to consume their usual diet, but refrain from eating any other tree nuts, seeds, peanuts, or ellagitannin-rich foods during the entire study, and other polyphenol-rich foods for 2 d prior to each study visit.

Results

Compared to baseline levels, red blood cell (RBC) linoleic acid and plasma pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) were significantly higher after 6 wk with 42 g/d walnuts (P < 0.05 for both). Overall, changes in plasma total thiols, and other antioxidant biomarkers, were not significant with either walnut dose. However, when compared to fasting levels, plasma total thiols were elevated within 1 h of walnut consumption with both doses during the baseline and end visits for each intervention phase (P < 0.05 for all). Despite the observed increase in RBC linoleic and linolenic acids associated with walnut consumption, this substrate for lipid peroxidation only minimally affected malondialdehyde (MDA) and antioxidant capacity. The proportional changes in MDA and Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) were consistent with a dose-response effect, although no significant within- or between-group differences were observed for these measures.

Conclusions

Walnut consumption did not significantly change the plasma antioxidant capacity of healthy, well-nourished older adults in this pilot study. However, improvements in linoleic acid and pyridoxal phosphate were observed with chronic consumption, while total plasma thiols were enhanced acutely. Future studies investigating the antioxidant effects of walnuts in humans are warranted, but should include either a larger sample size or a controlled feeding intervention.

Trial Registration

ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT00626691