DEC 21, 2017 03:38 PM PST

What Walnuts Can Do For Colon Cancer


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Famous for its distinctive resemblance to a mini brain, the walnut is not only tasty, but also packs a punch in health benefits. This nut is packed with omega-3 fats, minerals, and antioxidants. And one study suggests that walnuts may fight colon cancer, at least in mice. 

Walnuts belong to the tree nut family. This nutrient-dense food is packed with the most polyunsaturated fatty acids of all the commonly eaten tree nuts, beating out cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pistachios. They also contain the plant-based omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory benefits in promoting a healthy heart. Exciting research also surrounds the anti-cancer potential of walnuts, with research linking it to decreasing prostate cancer risks.

Could the simple walnut also have anti-cancer benefits for colon cancer too? Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn), in collaboration with the mice experts at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine wanted to find out.

In their experiment, the team divided mice into two groups: those that received the standard chow diet, and those that had a chow diet reflective of a typical American or Western diet. Subsets of these groups also received walnut supplements.

What they found was striking. Mice fed with the American diet fortified with walnuts developed the least amount of colon tumors. By comparison, mice without walnut supplement had the most colon tumor growths.

"Our results show for the first time that walnut consumption may reduce colon tumor development," said Daniel W. Rosenberg, professor at UConn Health, and senior study author. "There is accumulating evidence that eating walnuts may offer a variety of benefits related to health issues like cancer. This study shows that walnuts may also act as a probiotic to make the colon healthy, which in turn offers protection against colon tumors."

The team further demonstrated that the anti-cancer benefits of walnuts may be through the altering of the gut microbiome. Male mice with the greatest decrease in colon tumors seemed to have a more favorable microbiome in their digestive tract, suggesting nutrients from walnuts may promote a gut flora that protects against cancer.

Though this study was done in mice, the team is excited at the prospects of clinical trials, which will hopefully confirm the bona-fide anti-cancer effects of walnuts in humans. But Rosenberg is eager to spread the good word on walnut benefits. "I try to eat walnuts every day,” he said. "We're excited about future studies where we will be able to look at food consumption patterns to see how these results apply to humans."

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer or bowel cancer, is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer type in the world. According to a recent report, the incidence of colorectal cancer is expected to increase by 60% to more than 2.2?million new cases and 1.1?million deaths by 2030.

Additional source: Science Daily

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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