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Nuts Cut Heart Death Risk in Men

Doctor study finds 30% reduction with regular consumption

MONDAY, June 24, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A handful of nuts twice a week, that's all your heart asks.

Men who eat nuts regularly have roughly half the risk of sudden cardiac death as those who don't consume the food, a new study has found. In fact, they cut their odds of suffering other deadly heart trouble by 30 percent. A report on the findings appears in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nuts contain unsaturated fats that aren't as hard on the arteries as their saturated siblings. Some nuts have other cardiac benefits. Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a form of omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to boost cardiovascular health and which may prevent heart rhythm anomalies. They can also be a good source of nutrients such as vitamin E and magnesium.

Previous research has shown that as people eat more nuts, their risk of heart disease drops.

In the new work, researchers led by Dr. Christine Albert of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston compared nut consumption with heart-related ailments in 21,454 male doctors participating in the Physicians' Health Study. The men, aged 40 to 84 at the start of the research project, were tracked for an average of 17 years.

Only 20 percent of doctors in the survey said they rarely or never ate nuts. Most of the rest said they did so either one to three times or two to four times weekly.

Compared with those who didn't eat nuts, men who had frequently tended to be younger, exercised more, smoked less and drank moderate amounts of alcohol. Even after adjusting for these heart-healthy factors, men who said they ate at least an ounce of nuts twice a week were about half as likely as the rest to die of sudden, fatal heart rhythm disturbances. They also had 30 percent less chance of dying from coronary heart disease over time -- most of which was due to the impact on sudden cardiac death, the researchers say.

Nut intake didn't seem to reduce the risk of non-fatal heart attacks or death from congestive heart failure.

"If the observed associations between dietary habits such as nut and fish consumption are causal, then these dietary interventions could be applied with little risk," the researchers wrote.

Still, Dr. Frank Hu, a Harvard nutrition expert who has looked at the health benefits of nuts, doesn't advise loading up on the high-calorie foods. Rather, Hu says, people should substitute nuts for less healthful ingredients in their diets, such as red meat or sugary snacks.

The new research pleased representatives of the nut industry, who say they weren't surprised by the results.

"We're delighted to see more studies that confirm what is becoming a wide body of knowledge that support walnuts' effects" on promoting sound hearts and vessels, says Nicole Barnhart, a spokeswoman for the Walnut Marketing Board in Sacramento, Calif.

Nuts are now the nation's second favorite snack food, behind popcorn, the group says.

What To Do

For more on the health benefits of nuts, try FoodFIT.com or the International Tree Nut Council.

SOURCES: Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, nutrition and cardiovascular disease, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Nicole Barnhart, spokeswoman, Walnut Marketing Board, Sacramento, Calif.; June 24, 2002, Archives of Internal Medicine
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