17 Sep 2018

Walnut benefits for your health

author Ashley Owen
Rich in ellagic acid, fatty acids and vitamins, walnut benefits your immune system, heart health and skin.

The rich history of the walnut

“The slow motion, the rhythm of rubbing walnuts makes one’s spirit feel relaxed and comfortable,' an elderly Chinese man explained to German scholar Ernst Cordes. 'Oh, this thing of walnuts is a real magic of massaging your soul.'(1)

Many years on from this unusual conversation, recorded by Cordes in 1937, our love of walnuts is still going strong. In China, the tactile shell which so enchanted the elderly man is still highly valued. In fact, beautifully carved shells are still made there, some running to tens of thousands of pounds in value.

Over in Europe, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt used pigment made from walnut shells in their work.

While we admire the walnut's artistic value, we prefer making use of this wonderful nut to take care of our bodies. Funnily enough, in the same year that Cordes was being educated in the art of walnut rubbing, Russian scientist Gergelezhiu was looking into the benefits hidden inside the nut. He discovered that unripe walnuts contained a significant amount of vitamin C.(2)

Much more has been discovered about walnut benefits since then. Modern science offers us plenty of evidence as to why walnuts are good for us.

So, without further ado, let's explore how this beautiful little nut can improve your health.


Walnut benefits on heart health and cognitive health

A big watershed moment for the walnut came in 2004, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed its official stamp on the role of walnuts in heart health.

The FDA allowed walnut manufacturers to add these words to their packaging: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces (28 grams) of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Why is this? Well, most nuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Walnuts and walnut oil, on the other hand, are abundant in polyunsaturated fatty acids (which contain more than one double bond in their structure).

These acids make up the majority of the fats in walnut oil and include alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. These are the two essential fatty acids which your body cannot make itself.  

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid which your body turns into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

These particular acids have been judged important for healthy ageing and also boost cardiovascular health.(3) A separate study found that EPA and DHA could help prevent deterioration in cognitive function.(4)

This seems particularly appropriate given that walnuts famously look like the human brain. No wonder they're often called 'brain food'!

Walnuts have also been found to improve endothelial function. This means that walnuts help the linings of blood vessels to perform better.(5) Raw walnuts are also impressively rich in minerals including magnesium, vitamin B6, iron, and potassium.

Walnut oil: liquid gold

A beautiful, gleaming gold in colour, unrefined walnut oil comes from walnuts that are dried and then cold-pressed.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one tablespoon of walnut oil a day provides 1.4 grams of ALA.(6) The suggested daily intake of ALA for men is 1.6 grams; for women it is 1.1 grams. So, a tablespoon or two of walnut oil can. help you reach your intake with ease.

The previously mentioned study (into the use of walnuts to combat loss in cognitive function due to ageing) found that walnut oil protected cells from oxidative stress and inflammation.

Walnut oil also contains melatonin(7), which helps the body keep time. This can be of great help to people suffering from insomnia. All together, you could think of walnut oil as fine-tuning your internal clock and helping all the gears run smoothly.

Walnut oil and blood sugar

Another important gauge on the dashboard of physical health is the regulation of blood sugar. Here also walnut oil can assist us.

Among the many studies into the use of walnut oil in the management of diabetes, there is research looking at what the oil can do to help to improve the condition of those suffering from diabetes mellitus type 2, which is increasing globally.

It found that walnut oil significantly helped to reduce the dangerously high levels of blood sugar in the patients. The research also noted how remarkably rich in antioxidants the oil is, namely hydrolysed tannins and tocopherol.(8) Antioxidants fight free radicals, which cause all sorts of cosmetic and internal damage.

Walnut oil also contains valuable ellagic acid. Scientific studies have supported other benefits of ellagic acid when fed to rats, such as an ability to reduce obesity.(10)

Ellagic acid appears in many cosmetics because it helps to prevent collagen breakdown and inflammatory responses due to sunlight exposure.(11) Simply put, it seems to help protect the skin from some of the effects of ageing. Although further research on the effects of ellagic acid on human subjects is needed, it is clear that ellagic acid is one quite powerful antioxidant.

However, as with anything else, professional advice should be sought before attempting to treat oneself medically with walnut oil. As it is so potent, it may be wise to take it sparingly and to be aware that it may cause stomach upsets and bring blood sugar down to an undesirable low when taken with certain other drugs.