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Walnuts Help Fight Breast Cancer

Walnuts Have Many Anticancer Compounds

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Updated June 03, 2010

Walnuts

Walnuts

Photo © USDA Photography Services
Walnuts have a reputation of being as healthy as they are hard to crack. A large tree nut that resembles the human brain, it was once thought that crushed walnut kernels mixed with wine and oil would cure headache and prevent baldness. Walnuts were also believed to have some influence on fertility. Now research has found that walnuts contain healthy fatty acids that slow down the growth of breast cancer.

Walnuts Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Have a handful of walnuts each day, and it may reduce your risk for breast cancer. Sounds easy, doesn't it? This isn't folklore -- it's based on scientific research. Dr. Elaine Hardman of Marshall University School of Medicine has studied the relationship between diet and breast cancer for 15 years. While doing a lab study on mice with breast tumors, Dr. Hardman found that adding walnuts to the daily diet of the mice delayed their tumor growth. This preventative effect may carry over for women who are in treatment for breast cancer, and might even reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, when the nuts are consumed on a daily basis. Research has yet to explain how walnuts may prevent breast tumors, but these healthy nuts have many benefits.

Walnuts Are Part of a Healthy Diet

Walnuts are one of several nuts that have been recognized by the FDA as having less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g, which makes them a good choice for the prevention of heart disease. These nuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, making blood vessels more elastic and less likely to accumulate plaque.

Want to think more clearly? The omega 3s in walnuts help your brain cells take in nutrients and eliminate waste products, because they are more flexible than the thicker, sluggish omega 6s found in animal fats. Walnuts also help prevent gallstones, aid in sleep (they have natural melatonin), and help protect thinning bones.

Cracking Open the Walnut's Nutritional Values

Here are some of the essential ingredients stored in the walnut that explain why it is so good for you.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Alphalinolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that must come from food, because your body does not make it. It is a polyunsaturated fat that helps reduce inflammation, and it may be effective in preventing breast cancer.

  • Antioxidants: These substances help prevent or delay cellular rust; they stabilize free radicals and slow down the natural aging process.

  • Phytosterols: A plant compound that appears to slow or prevent the growth of cancer.

  • Melatonin: Your body regulates your body clock and other hormones by producing melatonin, the natural sleep hormone.

  • Gallic Acid: Found in the slightly bitter-tasting thin skin outside the walnut kernel, gallic acid is antifungal and toxic to cancer cells.

Best Ways to Get More From Walnuts

Resist snacking on cookies or French fries. Grab a handful of walnuts and wash them down with a cup of green tea. Avoid roasting walnuts, because this reduces most of their cancer-fighting powers. Instead of croutons, use walnuts right out of the bag on salads, include them with garlic and basil in black walnut pesto, mix them with fruits for cranberry shallot chutney, or create a healthy entrée such as vegetarian meatless loaf.

Walnuts as a Weapon Against Breast Cancer

"Dietary changes could prevent one-third to two-thirds of all cancer,” Dr. Hardman says. “The number one thing in our diet leading to cancer is eating too many calories.” While eating two ounces of walnuts daily will lower your risk for breast cancer, the snack also weighs in at 366 calories. That will show up on your waistline, so to prevent excess pounds, be sure you're using those walnut calories as a replacement for calories from other proteins, such as meat or legumes.

Your anticancer diet is more about balance, not about following the latest fads. And remember, there's an old French folktale about walnuts being an aphrodisiac, so it could be that the benefits of walnuts extend beyond what you're expecting!

Sources:

The Role of Nuts in a Healthy Diet. Mark Lino, Ph.D., Kristin Marcoe, M.B.A., R.D., Julia M. Dinkins, Ph.D., Hazel Hiza, Ph.D., R.D., and Rajen Anand, Ph.D. Nutrition Insights No. 23, December 2000. USDA.

Walnuts' Anti-Aflatoxin Ally: Gallic Acid. Russell J. Molyneux, Noreen E. Mahoney, Bruce C. Campbell, and Jong H. Kim. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Agricultural Research magazine, March 2005.

Walnuts Ward Off Breast Cancer in Mice. American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting, Denver, April 18-22, 2009. W. Elaine Hardman, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry, Marshall University School of Medicine, Huntington, W.Va.

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