Walnuts Counteract Effects of Academic Stress on Brain and Gut Microbiota: Study


Walnuts are known for improving brain and heart health and cognitive performance. People often consume walnuts before examinations to improve their memory. Now, a new study has shown walnut consumption to be associated with decreased stress in university students. Also, the study has revealed some lesser known health benefits of walnuts.

Researchers from University of South Australia recently conducted a clinical trial of undergraduate students during their university studies. The study describing the findings was recently published in the journal Nutrients,

Findings of the new study

The new research has shown positive effects of walnut consumption on self-reported measures of mental health and biomarkers of general health. During periods of stress, walnuts may counteract the effects of academic stress on the gut microbiota, according to the new study. This effect is especially pronounced in females.

The study results add to the growing body of evidence linking walnuts with improved brain and gut health, the lead researchers said, according to a statement released by the University of South Australia.

Mauritz Herselman said students experience academic stress throughout their studies, which has a negative effect on their mental health. Students are particularly vulnerable during exam periods, he added.

How the study was conducted

Eighty undergraduate students were split into treatment and control groups. They were clinically assessed in three intervals as part of the study. These intervals were: the beginning of a 13-week university semester, during the examination period, and two weeks after the examination period.

Over the three intervals, the students in the treatment group were given walnuts to consume daily for 16 weeks.

Walnut consumers experienced better sleep quality.

Herselman said they found that the students who consumed about half a cup of walnuts every day showed improvements in self-reported mental health indicators. He added that walnut consumers also showed improved metabolic biomarkers and overall sleep quality in the longer term.

Students who did not consume walnuts reported increased stress.

The study found that the students in the control group reported increased stress and depression levels. On the other hand, the students in the treatment group did not. Compared to the controls, the walnut consumers reported a significant drop in feelings associated with depression between the first and final visits.

What do walnuts contain?

Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. They also contain polyphenols, vitamin E and folate. All these components promote a healthy brain and gut.

Herselman said the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently stated that at least 75 percent of mental health disorders affect people under the age of 24. This makes undergraduate students particularly vulnerable to mental health problems.

According to Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya, one of the lead researchers, mental health disorders are common in university students and can adversely affect their academic performance and long-term physical health.

She added that the researchers have shown that consuming walnuts during stressful periods can improve mental health and general well-being in university students. Walnuts are also a healthy and delicious snack and a versatile ingredient in many recipes, and help fight negative effects of academic stress.

Bobrovskaya also said that due to fewer numbers of males in the study, more research needs to be conducted to establish sex-dependent effects of walnuts and academic stress in university students.

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