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Eating Walnuts Changes Our Genes To Help Fight Breast Cancer, Finds New Study

Stephanie Eckelkamp
Author: Medical reviewer:
Updated on September 30, 2019
Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.
Heather Moday, M.D.
Medical review by
Heather Moday, M.D.
Allergist & Immunologist
Heather Moday, M.D. is the founder of the Moday Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia, where she practices both traditional medicine and integrative medicine.
Image by Yaroslav Danylchenko / Stocksy
Last updated on September 30, 2019

Ask any nutrition expert and they’ll tell you: Walnuts are pretty badass. In fact, of all the various nuts, walnuts contain the highest amount of omega-3s and antioxidant polyphenols, both of which have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Research has linked walnut consumption to all sorts of benefits, from reduced risk of type 2 diabetes to weight loss to reduced cholesterol and blood pressure. And now, scientists have more reason to believe walnuts may help fight breast cancer, too.

In a new study published in Nutrition Research, researchers divided women who’d just undergone breast cancer biopsies into two groups. One group began eating two ounces of walnuts per day for two weeks, and the other group did not. When a follow-up biopsy was performed, researchers discovered significant changes in tumor gene expression in the walnut group. Consuming walnuts, researchers learned, activated gene pathways that promote apoptosis (or cancer cell death) and inhibited pathways that promote cancer cell growth.

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This study builds upon previous research that found walnut consumption slowed breast cancer growth and reduced risk of breast cancer in mice, and “these results support the hypothesis that, in humans, walnut consumption could suppress growth and survival of breast cancers,” said study author W. Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., in a Marshall University news release.

Researchers didn’t identify a specific compound (or compounds) within walnuts that delivered this anti-cancer effect, but polyphenols may have a lot to do with it. “The primary polyphenol in walnuts is pedunculagin, an ellagitannin,” Vincent Pedre, M.D., recently told mbg. “Ellagitannins provide well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that can protect against cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.”

Of course, more research is needed to confirm these findings, but given walnuts’ impressive nutrient composition and reputation for helping off other chronic diseases, it’s not hard to believe. Even better, walnuts are one of the least expensive nuts you can buy! For more on how to eat to beat disease, check out these 21 cancer-fighting foods that naturally lower your risk of lung and breast cancer.  

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Stephanie Eckelkamp
Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor

Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).