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TNFP0305-todd-fitchette-pistachios_BT_Edits.jpg Todd Fitchette
Pistachios are harvested in the San Joaquin Valley.

Pistachio extracts can help curb infections, study finds

Use in topical or oral drug formulations could boost demand for the nut

Pistachios have extracts whose antimicrobial effects have been shown to stop the growth of certain bacteria and viruses, a new Italian university study has found.

In a study published last month in the journal Plants, researchers at the University of Messina in Italy discovered that polyphenols — health-protective compounds — in American pistachios have antiviral qualities that were effective against Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, Listeria and Herpes symplex virus (HSV-1). High concentrations resulted in the reduction of HSV-1 in lab settings.

The research could boost demand for pistachios among companies that are developing novel topical or oral drug populations that could augment or replace traditional antibiotics amid growing concerns about resistance, according to the scientists.

“Pistachio extracts could provide a novel topical or oral treatment against HSV-1 infections, as well as a novel strategy to overcome problems related to drug-resistant strains,” said University of Messina researcher Giuseppina Mandalari. “Researchers are optimistic that the bactericidal activity of pistachio extracts could be used to help control the growth of some microorganisms in foods potentially leading to improved food safety and as an application for the topical treatment of Staph. aureus.”

Further studies are needed to confirm that results in labs can be translated in a clinical setting with humans, the researchers caution. However, the research “provides new information that we did not have previously,” American Pistachio Growers president Richard Matoian said in an email.

Series of studies

Previous University of Messina research in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s Institute of Food Research also found that polyphenol-rich extracts from pistachios have a strong bactericidal effect against strains of the disease-causing Staph. aureus, MRSA strains and Listeria monocytogenes, the APG notes in a news release.

The studies are the latest in a string of recent research highlighting the healthful qualities of pistachios. In the past year, studies have shown that pistachios contain higher amounts of sleep-improving melatonin, that nut consumption might reduce cardiovascular diseases and that eating pistachios may help reduce damage to DNA.

Such research “provides consumers with additional reasons to make pistachios their nut of choice to consume,” Matoian told Western Farm Press in an email. “This just adds to our growing body of health and nutritional information that provides rationale to increased consumption of pistachios as a good-for-you, delicious snack.”

Consumers’ interest in the nut’s nutritional qualities is a key reason for pistachios’ big gains over the past two decades. The APG notes that each 2-ounce serving of pistachios has 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber and 570 milligrams of potassium.

Pistachios are particularly popular in China, where they’re known as “the happy nut” because of the smiling appearance of in-shell nuts. While other tree nut sales to China struggled amid the trade war, U.S. pistachio exports to the Asian nation have never been higher.

Shipments of pistachios to China and Hong Kong totaled more than 246 million pounds in the crop year that ended Aug. 31 – a significant rise from the 180 pounds shipped there in 2017-18. The APG attributed the increase partly to a terrible production year suffered by Iran, the U.S.’ chief competitor.

For more news on tree nuts as reported by growers and farm advisors, subscribe to the Tree Nut Farm Press e-newsletter.

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