Some walnuts in their shell.

Walnuts Credited With New Superfood Power: Diversifying Gut Bacteria To Improve Health

Walnuts are considered a superfood because they contain high concentrations of antioxidants, plenty of good fatty acids, and fiber, but now researchers say that walnuts might have another life-saving trait! Plenty of research lately has uncovered the critical role that gut bacteria plays in human health. In recent years, gut bacteria has been strongly linked to Parkinson’s disease, autism, cognitive flexibility issues, psychiatric issues, asthma and more. A research team led by Dr. Lauri Byerley, a Research Associate Professor of Physiology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, says eating walnuts can improve the diversity of bacteria in the gut. They suspect that this is just another way that eating walnuts likely contributes to better human health. The research team’s findings are published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

“Walnuts have been called a ‘superfood’ because they are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid and fiber, and they contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants,” Dr. Byerley explained, according to Science Daily. “Now, an additional superfood benefit of walnuts may be their beneficial changes to the gut microbiota.”

In an animal test, researchers compared the gut bacteria present in the microbiome of the descending colon of rodents that were fed a normal diet plus walnuts with rodents that were fed a normal diet without walnuts. There were two very distinctly different communities of bacteria in the colons of the two groups. Once the animals were fed walnuts, their bacteria changed and the functional capacity of the bacteria significantly improved. The rodents that were fed walnuts had a significant increase in beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus.

“We found that walnuts in the diet increased the diversity of bacteria in the gut, and other non-related studies have associated less bacterial diversity with obesity and other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Walnuts increased several bacteria, like Lactobacillus, typically associated with probiotics suggesting walnuts may act as a prebiotic.”

Walnuts are superfood and might affect gut bacteria.
Walnuts might act as a prebiotic to feed good gut bacteria. [Image by Savitskaya Iryna/Shutterstock]

Prebiotics selectively promote beneficial bacteria but are not the same as probiotics, which actually consist of the healthy bacteria itself.

“Gut health is an emerging research area, and researchers are finding that greater bacterial diversity may be associated with better health outcomes,” Byerley added.

The research team, which included Dr. Derrick Samuelson, Dr. Eugene Blanchard IV, Dr. Meng Luo, Dr. Sheila Banks, Dr. David Welsh, Dr. Brittany Lorenzen, Dr. Christopher Taylor, and Dr. Monica Ponder, was funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research and California Walnut Commission. The team of researchers concluded that we might be able to reshape our gut microbiome if we start adding walnuts to our diets.

[Featured Image by Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock]