Harvard Researchers Discover Mortality Benefits of Nut Consumption

A Harvard study has found that consuming nuts on a regular basis can reduce a person’s risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.

The study was published on Nov. 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine and was conducted by researchers from the Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

According to lead researcher Ying Bao, a Brigham epidemiologist, previous studies have not examined the relationship between cancer and nut consumption. Yao said her study fills a gap in previous knowledge and is the first to not only link nut consumption with a lower risk of cancer, but also to look at the effect of peanuts, which are technically legumes, on mortality.

“We were particularly interested in the relationship between nut consumption and many specific causes of mortality, like heart disease, cancer, infection, and diabetes,” Bao said. “Previous studies have often only looked at one cause in particular, which usually is heart disease.”

The data, gathered over thirty years of extensive research and experiments, is based on a participant pool of around 118,000 healthy volunteers.

Volunteers who consistently consumed a one-ounce daily serving of nuts for seven days a week were 25 percent less likely to die from heart disease, 20 percent less likely to die from lung disease and diabetes, and 10 percent less likely to die from cancer. Subjects consumed a variety of nuts, including both peanuts and “tree nuts,” such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds.

Bao said the results did not surprise her and her fellow researchers, as previous studies indicated similar health benefits of nut consumption in daily diet regimens. In an announcement in July 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Funding for the study came from two National Institutes of Health grants and a grant of $150,000 from the International Tree Nut Council, though some claimed that the funding went against the Council’s mission. In an interview with The Crimson, the executive director of the Tree Nut Council Maureen Ternus said that the organization’s goal is to take the results of the study and use them to encourage health professionals and patients to talk about the benefits of eating nuts.

“We’re not going to fund research for cars. Who do they think is going to fund this research?” Ternus said. “The findings are the findings, and we don’t have any input with that.”

Though the research found a relationship between nut consumption and mortality from certain diseases, Bao said it is actually unclear why exactly nuts are beneficial. The researchers plan to study the association between nuts and a variety of markers for diseases next, according to Bao.

“You cannot expect nuts themselves to solve everything,” Bao said. “That would be unrealistic.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: Dec. 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article stated that the study was funded by a $150,000 grant from the International Tree Nut Council. To clarify, that grant only partially funded the study. The rest of the funding came from two National Institutes of Health grants.

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