Eating walnuts before exams could improve student health, scores.
It’s been noted previously that walnuts have numerous health benefits. According to WebMD, snacking on this natural health enhancer gives the body necessary omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants and may lower one’s risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and dementia. Walnuts also contain melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone), polyphenols, folate and vitamin E, all of which benefit the gut and brain, and have been linked to a longer lifespan. Now, a new study out of the University of South Australia shows that walnuts may help stressed-out college students study more effectively, concentrate more, and excel on exam day.
Eighty undergraduate students were divided into a treatment group and a control group and were clinically assessed in three intervals (at the start of a 13-week semester, during exams, and two weeks after exams). The treatment group was given a daily dose of walnuts to eat over the course of 16 weeks. Previously, academic stress increased self-reported levels of stress and depression (completing the DASS-21) during the exam period.
In the experiment, undergraduate students self-reported on their mental health and other biomarkers of general health, showing that consuming walnuts positively impacted their cognitive abilities. These results were published in the journal Nutrients, and researchers surmise that the nut may also be able to protect gut flora from the impact of academic stress, particularly in females.
Lead researchers were PhD student Mauritz Herselman and Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya. They conclude in their paper (of the impact on gut flora), “Academic stress was associated with lower gut microbial diversity in females. Daily walnut consumption may alleviate the negative effects of academic stress on the diversity of the gut microbiota in females.”
“Students experience academic stress throughout their studies, which has a negative effect on their mental health, and they are particularly vulnerable during exam periods,” Herselman said. “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 overall sleep quality in the longer term.”
Students in the control group reported increased stress and depression levels prior to their exams but those in the treatment group did not. Moreover, those who consumed the walnuts reported a notable decline in feelings associated with being depressed between the first and final check-ins.
“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,” Herselman explained..
Bobrovskaya added,”We have shown that consuming walnuts during stressful periods can improve mental health and general well-being in university students, as well as being a healthy and delicious snack and a versatile ingredient in many recipes, to fight some negative effects of academic stress.”
She added that further studies are necessary to prove their hypotheses, stating, “Due to fewer numbers of males in the study, more research is needed to establish sex-dependent effects of walnuts and academic stress in university students. It’s also possible that a placebo effect might have come into play as this was not a blind study.”