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Walnuts May Help Protect Against Alzheimer's, Study Finds

For those looking to combat Alzheimer's, a new animal study is shedding light on a snack that may reduce the risk and even help prevent the disease: walnuts.

Researchers led by Dr. Abha Chauhan at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety, and motor development in mice fed a walnut-enriched diet.

Chauhan said the findings help lay the groundwork for future human studies on walnuts and Alzheimer's disease, for which there is no known cure. Her study only looked at the effect of a walnut-rich diet on mice.

“The research group examined the effects of dietary supplementation on mice with 6 percent or 9 percent walnuts, which are equivalent to 1 ounce and 1.5 ounces per day, respectively, of walnuts in humans,” Chauhan told The Huffington Post.

One ounce is considered to be one serving of walnuts, and loosely translates to 12 to 14 halves, or 1/4 cup (about a handful).

Researchers believe the high antioxidant content of walnuts -- which also are rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- may be the key to protecting the brain from degeneration.

The study adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the health benefits of walnuts. For example, studies show that walnuts and other nuts boast a heart-protective benefit during times of stress. Indeed researchers at Harvard Medical School report that men can reduce cardiovascular risk by regularly eating nuts, including walnuts.

When it comes to dementia, walnuts and certain other foods, including broccoli, have been found to also significantly reduce the risk of developing the condition.

More than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer's, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease could nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease.