Snacking on nuts and seeds boosts your heart health to such an extent that it could slash your risk of premature death by nearly half, a new study suggests.
Researchers in Finland tracked 2,500 men for 22 years, monitoring their overall health, with a focus on the fatty acid levels in their blood.
They found that those with a higher intake of linoleic acid, found in omega-6-rich foods like pine nuts and pumpkins seeds and vegetable oil, were 43 percent less likely to die early of preventable diseases.
The study also claimed they found no evidence to support fears that linoleic acid could promote cancer-causing inflammation – though it did nothing to protect people from cancer, either.
A study of 2,500 men spanning 22 years found nuts and seeds had a surprisingly powerful effect on cardiovascular health, cutting early death risk by 43 percent
Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland determined the blood fatty acid levels of 2,480 men between 42 and 60 years of age at the onset of the study, in 1984-1989.
During an average follow-up of 22 years, 1,143 men died of disease-related causes. Deaths due to an accident or other reasons were excluded from the study.
Professor Jyrki Virtanen said: ‘Linoleic acid is the most common polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.
‘We discovered that the higher the blood linoleic acid level, the smaller the risk of premature death.
‘When we divided the study participants into five different groups based on their blood linoleic acid level, they discovered that the risk of premature death was 43 percent lower in the group with the highest level, when compared to the group with the lowest level.’
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are known for their beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
However there has been speculation that they also promote low level inflammation which could increase the risk of chronic disease.
Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers pointed out that omega-6 fatty acids also increase the production of anti-inflammatory compounds.
They said that because of this it is difficult to determine the associations of dietary factors with the risk of developing disease, although blood linoleic acid level is determined by a person’s diet.
No specific association between omega-6 levels and death due to cancer was found.
However, overall the outcome is very similar regardless of whether the study participants suffered from cardiovascular diseases, cancer or diabetes at the onset of the study.
A more detailed analysis of the causes of death showed that an association exists for death due to cardiovascular diseases, as well as for death due to some other reason than cardiovascular diseases or cancer.
The study backs up findings from earlier population-based studies which have linked a higher dietary intake of linoleic acid and a higher blood linoleic acid level to a smaller risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, without increasing the risk of cancer.
Prof Virtanen added: ‘Our findings showed an inverse association of a higher biomarker of linoleic acid intake with total and cardiovascular disease mortality and little concern for risk, thus supporting the current dietary recommendations to increase linoleic acid intake for cardiovascular disease prevention.’