Pistachios good for the heart

Published on April 9, 2008 at 6:36 AM · No Comments

More good news for pistachio fans! According to new data unveiled this week at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego, snacking on pistachios has proved once again to have a positive impact on improving cardiovascular health by significantly reducing inflammation in the body, a prominent cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor.

CVD remains the number one cause of death in the U.S., with millions more Americans currently living with the disease. A new study, led by researcher Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton from Penn State University's Department of Nutritional Sciences, looked at the effects of pistachios on multiple CVD risk factors, some of which include cholesterol, blood pressure and the genetic expression of various genes related to inflammation. The study positively supports other recent studies that show a diet rich in pistachios packs a powerful nutrition punch.

“Pistachios contain many important nutrients that contribute to their positive effect on health. Every new study adds another piece to the puzzle of how eating pistachios may benefit heart health,” said Dr. Constance Geiger, nutrition expert for the Western Pistachio Association (WPA).

The Penn State study was a randomized, crossover, controlled study of 28 healthy men and women (ages 30-70) with slightly-elevated cholesterol levels (similar to cholesterol levels of the general population). It tested three cholesterol-lowering diets, one without pistachio consumption and two with varied levels of pistachios in relation to total caloric intake (on average, 1.5 ounces and 3.0 ounces). All diets provided the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, but different amounts of unsaturated fat delivered by pistachios. Participants were fed the same diet for two weeks, which served as a baseline before the test diets began. Each subject tested all diets for a period of four weeks, and results were measured after each diet cycle was completed.

In addition to cholesterol measures (lipids and lipoproteins), blood pressure, heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output and total resistance to blood flow through the vascular arteries were measured. At the end of each study period, cells were isolated from all subjects and genetic expression of inflammation markers was measured.

Study Highlights

Study results demonstrate the beneficial effects of a diet rich in pistachios on multiple CVD risk factors. As indicated in a previous release of this study, cholesterol levels, a prominent risk factor for CVD, improved with pistachio consumption. Compared to baseline, both the 1.5 and 3.0 ounce pistachio diets resulted in reduction of total cholesterol (TC) and low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). In addition to the beneficial effects of pistachios on cholesterol, including pistachios as part of a heart-healthy diet also significantly reduced inflammation at the cellular level.

"Reducing inflammation at the cellular level is an important finding as it may be a more specific marker of inflammatory status than blood markers, which are general indicators of inflammation in the body," said Dr. Sarah Gebauer, Penn State University. "We are truly excited about these results and what they mean for those at risk for cardiovascular disease."

“As an organization dedicated to promoting nutrition news about pistachios and health, the WPA is already planning to fund additional research at Penn State and the University of Toronto,” continued Dr. Geiger. “We hope to learn more about the effects of pistachios on blood pressure in people with diabetes and the effects of pistachios on satiety hormones and hormones that regulate blood sugar.”

Pistachios Pack Powerful Nutrition

In July 2003, the U.S. FDA announced that eating most nuts, such as pistachios, may help reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Since then, the U.S. pistachio industry has committed to learning more about the nutritional benefits of pistachios and the nuts impact on other health issues affecting Americans today.

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