Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age

Background

Because of the combination of population growth and population aging, increases in the incidence of chronic neurodegenerative disorders have become a societal concern, both in terms of decreased quality of life and increased financial burden. Clinical manifestation of many of these disorders takes years, with the initiation of mild cognitive symptoms leading to behavioral problems, dementia and loss of motor functions, the need for assisted living, and eventual death. Lifestyle factors greatly affect the progression of cognitive decline, with high-risk behaviors including unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and exposure to environmental toxins leading to enhanced oxidative stress and inflammation. Although there exists an urgent need to develop effective treatments for age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease, prevention strategies have been underdeveloped. Primary prevention in many of these neurodegenerative diseases could be achieved earlier in life by consuming a healthy diet, rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, which offers one of the most effective and least expensive ways to address the crisis. English walnuts (Juglans regia L.) are rich in numerous phytochemicals, including high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer potential benefits to brain health. Polyphenolic compounds found in walnuts not only reduce the oxidant and inflammatory load on brain cells but also improve interneuronal signaling, increase neurogenesis, and enhance sequestration of insoluble toxic protein aggregates. Evidence for the beneficial effects of consuming a walnut-rich diet is reviewed in this article.