Eating several servings of nuts every week may help lower the risk of developing the heart rhythm irregularity, atrial fibrillation, finds new research published online in the journal Heart.
This level of consumption may also reduce the risk of developing heart failure, although the findings are less consistent.
Previous studies have suggested that eating nuts regularly is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and associated death, but it's not clear which particular aspects of cardiovascular disease nut consumption may be linked to.
To explore this in more depth, the researchers drew on the diet lifestyle information collected for more than 61,000 Swedish 45 to 83 year olds. Their cardiovascular health was then tracked for 17 years (to the end of 2014).
People who ate nuts tended to be better educated and to have healthier lifestyles than those who didn't include nuts in their diet. They were less likely to smoke or to have a history of high blood pressure. And they were leaner, more physically active, drank more alcohol and ate more fruit and vegetables.
The more often nuts consumed, the lower the risk of atrial fibrillation
During the study period, nut consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and abdominal aortic aneurysm, after taking account of age and sex.
But when several known risk factors were accounted for, such as lifestyle, general diet, diabetes, and family history, only associations with atrial fibrillation and with heart failure emerged.
The more often nuts were included in the diet, the lower was the associated risk of atrial fibrillation, the findings showed.
Eating a serving of nuts one to three times a month was associated with a lowered risk of just 3 percent, rising to 12 percent when eating them once or twice a week, and to 18 percent when eating them three or more times a week.
The findings for heart failure were less consistent: Moderate, but not high, weekly nut consumption was associated with a 20 percent lower risk.
Study limitations and strengths
This is an observational study, and as such, cannot establish causation. And the researchers emphasise that those who ate nuts had fewer cardiovascular risk factors to start with, which may have affected the findings.
But the strength of the study lies in its large size and the large number of cardiovascular disease cases reported during the monitoring period, they say.
Nuts are a rich source of healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants, all of which may aid cardiovascular health.
Source: Heart, April 16, 2018.
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