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This Nut Could Help Protect You From Alzheimer's, New Research Suggests

This snack could have brain-boosting benefits.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

Your dietary choices can impact nearly every part of your life. They can affect how energetic you feel throughout the day, how your body ages, how your skin looks and feels, and more. They can also have an impact on your brain function both in the short term and in the long run.

Some foods could help your mind function better, while others could be doing some damage to your cognitive abilities. In fact, dietary choices can even affect your risk of Alzheimer's disease. Now, new research suggests that an oil found in walnuts could help protect against the disease.

person eating walnuts
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In the study, published April 19 in the journal Nutrients, researchers looked at a cellular model of how oil extracted from walnuts affected the function of mitochondria, the main source of energy for our cells, and other processes. They found that the extract decreased the formation of certain beta-amyloids, which form the plaques on the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease, and that it may increase the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound that helps fuel the cells.

As such, the researchers concluded that walnut oil may be a "promising agent" in combating the disease, though it needs further research.

"Walnuts are an important component of the Mediterranean Diet, which has been shown to prevent Alzheimer's disease (AD)," study authors write. "Clinical studies revealed that the consumption of walnuts increases cognitive function in the elderly."

They added that the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid (ALA) in the nuts helps form two omega-3-long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that benefit cellular functions, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and that these nuts could have antioxidant effects.

"Walnuts contain the highest amount of ALA of all nuts," they write. "Furthermore, this [walnut] extract also includes low levels of the lipophilic vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant."

Walnuts have also been linked with a range of other benefits, including helping you with sleep, boosting your heart health, and protecting you from liver damage.

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative condition wherein one's memory, thinking and other cognitive functions decline, eventually interfering with their day-to-day life. According to a 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, the disease affected 5 million people, or 1.6% of the U.S. population.

Additionally, researchers expect that percentage to grow to 3.3 by 2060. They advise getting tested early to help those who have the disease and their families deal with the challenges that it brings as well as possible.

There are a range of lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of the disease. For instance, some research finds that sticking to the Mediterranean diet could help protect you from it or a variation of the diet created specifically for your brain health called the MIND diet. Additionally, habits such as exercising regularly, maintaining an active social life, and doing activities to keep your brain sharp could also help lower your risk.

For more on research-backed ways to lower your risk of this disease, be sure to check out these Alzheimer's Secrets That Really Work, Say Physicians.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more