Research reported by the California Walnut Board points to the possible cancer-reducing benefits of the tree nut.
According to a Harvard Medical School study, a diet that includes walnuts may slow colorectal tumor growth by causing beneficial changes in cancer genes.
“Our research demonstrates that a walnut diet causes significant changes in the expression profile of miRNAs in localized colorectal cancer tissue, and that a walnut diet incorporates protective fatty acids in the colonic tumor either through its direct effects or through additive or synergistic effects of multiple other compounds present in walnuts,” said Harvard’s Christos Mantzoros.
“While future studies are needed, we’re optimistic of the role of miRNAs as biomarkers of disease and prognosis, and may demonstrate a potential therapeutic target for colorectal cancer treatment.”
This is the first study that evaluates whether walnut consumption can cause changes to micro-ribonucleic acids (miRNA), the nucleotides that are involved in altering gene expression.
Researchers conducted the randomized study with two groups of mice. One group was fed the equivalent of two servings (2 ounces) per day of walnuts for humans, while the second group received a similar control diet with no walnuts.
After 25 days, researchers found that in walnut-fed mice, key miRNA that may affect cancer cell inflammation, vascularization (blood supply) and proliferation were positively engaged.
The tumors of mice that ate walnuts were found to have 10 times the amount of total omega-3 fatty acids, including plant-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), in the tissue compared with the mice fed the control diet.
The study found that a smaller tumor size was associated with greater percentage of omega-3s in tumor tissues, suggesting that ALA may provide a protective benefit. Tumor growth rate was also significantly slower in the walnut group compared to the control group.
ALA is an essential fatty acid critical to various body processes and is known to reduce inflammation. Walnuts are the only nut that contain a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce). Walnuts also contain a variety of antioxidants (3.7 mmol/ounce) and numerous vitamins and minerals.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer worldwide and is second to only lung cancer as the leading cause of death in Western Countries. Diet has been shown to be a modifiable risk factor in preventing many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. It is estimated that 30-50 percent of colorectal cancer in men and 20 percent in women can be prevented by diet and other lifestyle changes.
An article detailing these findings, “Dietary Walnut Suppression of Colorectal Cancer in mice: mediation by miRNA patterns and fatty acid incorporation” has been published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
This study was supported from a grant by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the California Walnut Commission. As this study was conducted on animals, results cannot yet be implied for humans.