UNITED STATES - People who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause than those who didn't consume nuts, a US study said Wednesday.
The research, published in the US journal New England Journal of Medicine, also found regular nut-eaters were more slender than those who didn't eat nuts, which would alleviate the widespread worry that eating a lot of nuts will lead to overweight.
"The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease -- the major killer of people in America, " Charles Fuchs, senior author and director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
"But we also saw a significant reduction -- 11 percent -- in the risk of dying from cancer," added Fuchs, who is also affiliated with the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
It couldn't be determined whether any specific type of nuts was crucial to the protective effect, said the researchers. However, the reduction in mortality was similar both for peanuts and for " tree nuts" including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.
Several previous studies have found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked increased nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations.
But no previous research studies had looked in such details at various levels of nut consumption and their effects on overall mortality in a large population that was followed for more than 30 years, the researchers said.