According to researchers from the University of South Australia, stressed university students might want to add walnuts to their daily diet in the weeks leading up to exams.
A new clinical trial of undergraduate students has found positive effects of walnut consumption on self-reported measures of mental health and biomarkers of general health. The findings also suggest that walnuts may thwart the effects of academic stress on the gut microbiome during periods of stress, especially in females.
These results add to the growing body of evidence linking walnuts with improved brain and gut health.
About the study
Eighty undergraduate students were split into treatment and control groups and were clinically assessed in three intervals: at the beginning of a 13-week university semester, during the examination period and two weeks after the examination period. Those in the treatment group were given walnuts to consume every day for 16 weeks over these three intervals.
Those who consumed about half a cup (125 ml) of walnuts daily showed improvements in self-reported mental health indicators. Walnut consumers also had improvements in metabolic biomarkers and overall sleep quality.
Students in the control group reported increased stress and depression levels in the leadup to exams while those in the treatment group did not. Those in the walnut group also reported a significant drop in feelings associated with depression between the first and final visits, compared to the controls.
What's in walnuts?
Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, as well as melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), polyphenols, folate and vitamin E, all of which promote brain and gut health.
According to the researchers, mental health disorders are common in university students and can adversely affect students’ academic performance and long-term physical health.
“The new findings suggest that consuming walnuts during stressful periods can improve mental health and general wellbeing in university students – as well as being a nutritious and tasty snack – to fight some negative effects of academic stress.
Due to fewer numbers of males in the study, more research is needed to establish sex-dependent effects of walnuts and academic stress. It’s also possible that a placebo effect might have come into play as this was not a blinded study.
The study was co-funded by the California Walnut Commission.
Source: Nutrients, December 15, 2022.
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