Three studies released this week give the term "health nut" new meaning, as they tie the consumption of nuts with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and sudden heart attacks.
Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that the antioxidant vitamin E and other antioxidants in nuts, leafy green vegetables and other foods -- not supplements -- may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. Almonds are a good choice, as they're higher than any other food in alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, the form of vitamin E that the body absorbs and uses best.
One study involved 815 Chicago residents age 65 and older with no initial symptoms of mental decline, who were questioned about their eating habits and followed for an average of about four years. When factors like age and education were taken into account, a group eating the most foods high in the antioxidant vitamin E had a 70 percent lower risk of developing the disease than a group eating few foods high in vitamin E. This was true for whole foods, such as almonds, but was not demonstrated for supplements.
The other study involved 5,395 people in the Netherlands age 55 and older who were followed for an average of six years. Those with high intakes of vitamins E and C were less likely to become afflicted with Alzheimer's, regardless of whether they had the gene variation. Researchers said more definitive studies will be necessary.
Finally, a large-scale study released this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine examined the nut consumption of more than 21,000 male doctors participating in the U.S. Physicians' Health Study, which began in 1982. The study showed that those men who ate one ounce of nuts at least twice a week had a 47 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death and a 30 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease death, as compared to those who did not eat nuts at all. One ounce equals about a handful of nuts such as almonds.
Eating more nuts is a good example of a "dietary intervention that can be applied with little risk," as study author Dr. Christine Albert, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. A handful of almonds contains just 164 calories and provides vitamin E, magnesium and potassium - dietary components identified in the study that may contribute to reduced heart attack risk. In addition, almonds pack plenty of protein, healthful monounsaturated fat, dietary fiber, calcium and zinc. Previous studies have shown that eating a handful of almonds as part of a healthful lifestyle may lower bad cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Almonds are unique among nuts in that they contain more alpha-tocopherol vitamin E than any other nut, and far more than other foods. Eating a handful a day provides 7 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, which is half of the National Academy of Science's daily alpha-tocopherol recommendation.