Poorer mental health is common in undergraduate students due to academic stress. An interplay between stress and diet exists, with stress influencing food choices. Nutritional interventions may be effective in preventing mental health decline due to complex bidirectional interactions between the brain, the gut, and the gut microbiota. Previous studies have shown walnut consumption has a positive effect on mental health.
In a new study, scientists from the University of South Australia aimed to investigate the effects of academic stress and daily walnut consumption in university students on mental health, biochemical markers of general health, and gut microbiota. They found that daily walnut consumption improved mental health indicators and protected against some negative effects of academic stress on metabolic and stress biomarkers.
In other words, walnuts may counteract the effects of academic stress on the gut microbiota during periods of stress, especially in females.
Lead researchers, Ph.D. student Mauritz Herselman, say the results add to the growing body of evidence linking walnuts with improved brain and gut health.”
“Students experience academic stress throughout their studies, which has a negative effect on their mental health, and they are particularly vulnerable during exam periods.”
“Clinical evaluations of 80 undergraduate students, divided into treatment and control groups, took place throughout three intervals: at the start of a 13-week semester at the university, throughout the exam period, and two weeks after the exam period. Over these three intervals, the treatment group was given walnuts to eat every day for 16 weeks.”
“We found that those who consumed about half a cup of walnuts every day showed improvements in self-reported mental health indicators. Walnut consumers also showed improved metabolic biomarkers and sleep quality in the longer term.”
In the weeks leading up to exams, students in the control group experienced more stress and despair than those in the treatment group did. In comparison to the controls, the walnut eaters also noted a significant decline in depressive symptoms between the first and last visits.
Previous studies have demonstrated that walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, melatonin (a hormone that induces sleep), polyphenols, folate, and vitamin E, all of which support brain and gastrointestinal health.
Herselman said, “The World Health Organization has recently stated that at least 75 per cent of mental health disorders affect people under the age of 24 years, making undergraduate students particularly vulnerable to mental health problems.”