Why Do Nuts Prevent Heart Attacks?

Nuts reduce fatal and non-fatal heart attacks by an incredible 30-50%. The reasons are elusive.nuts-mix

In spite of heart healthy claims being plastered on just about every nut product these days, few physicians are aware of the extent of their benefit. In study after study, regular consumption of 2-3 hands-full of nuts a week sharply reduces heart attacks.

But why? A long list is frequently given:

  1. Nuts have no cholesterol (but eating cholesterol laden product is known to have no effect on heart health).
  2. Nuts are low salt (but we nut eaters can’t stand those, and salt reduction has no effect on heart attacks either).
  3. Nuts have the “right” oils – meaning no saturated fat (but, there is essentially no difference between the types of oils and fats as far as heart attacks go).
  4. Nuts have vitamin E (supplementation with vitamin E has been shown to increase mortality.)
  5. And a good dozen other things that sound perfectly healthy

But plenty of properly grown food has all these sorts of thing and yet doesn’t offer the 30-50% reduction in heart events. Furthermore, no supplementation cocktail with any or all of these wondrous nutrients and vitamins has any beneficial effect.

Well, nuts! What in the heck is it? None, none of the standard reasons stand up to scrutiny at all. What’s going on?

Here is one  possibility: nuts are fairy loaded with arginine. The endothelium, the cellular lining of all arteries and veins, uses this to make nitric oxide. (Not to be  confused with nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, which is involved in this chemical reaction sequence.) Why would they produce nitric oxide? Mainly to get the tiny muscles that surround blood vessels to relax. If these muscles stay tight, blood pressure rises. (Another possibility we won’t expand on just now: nuts are very high in magnesium which is also heart healthy except when taken as a supplement. So don’t go there!).

Another item that increases nitric oxide production is Viagra. Could you substitute nuts? Probably.

Since statins have no benefit as far as all cause mortality is concerned, you would think nuts would be a good replacement. And you would be thinking correctly. All that remains is for the pharmaceutical industry to package the nut in a capsule and then spend a billion dollars making sure every doctor in the country was  busily writing prescriptions for it. Would this be possible? Never underestimate the utter gall….. [we digress]

What’s with the nuts?

One reason we don’t know is that there is no money in it, except for the nut industry, of course. SO what do they have to say? Here’s what Planter’s Peanuts posts:

If you love nuts, you’ll be happy to know that they can fit into a heart healthy diet. Over the past decade, research has shown that eating nuts in moderation – including peanuts and most tree nuts – can help keep your heart healthy.

Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat & cholesterol and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary disease. See nutrition information for fat content.

If this isn’t the height of circumspection, we don’t know what is. Love the opener: If you love nuts… Guess what? Even if you hate nuts, they will still protect your heart if you eat them. And even though Planter’s seem quite reluctant to weigh in on the health benefits, they show no such restraint bashing saturated fat!

With such an aggressive marketing campaign, it is puzzling why all the docs don’t know about nuts.

Where else might we find some nutty science? The internet, of course. Here we find that nuts probably reduce cancer risk, and most likely reduce adult onset diabetes as well, a claim statins certainly can’t make.nuts-health

So what’s up with the nuts? Bottom line is: they have a lot of the “right stuff” but no single ingredient appears to be dominant. There is a larger lesson here of course: any attempt to deconstruct food into its components is usually fraught with peril.  So we really don’t know. At this point, they should simply be considered magical and enjoyed.

Why do you think nuts work?

  1 comment for “Why Do Nuts Prevent Heart Attacks?

  1. Jim
    May 20, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Do any studies include nut butters? Also, do you believe there is any real concern for the omega 6 content in nuts?

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