The University of Barcelona has released new research showing that consumption of peanuts and peanut butter may improve cognitive function and reduce stress in healthy young adults1. Researchers point to the polyphenols in peanuts that likely aided memory, executive function and processing speed and resulted in a reduction of cortisol, anxiety and depressive levels in a control group of mostly college students. The improvement of memory function and stress response after consuming regular peanuts and peanut butter seem to be related to the mental health effects of bioactive compounds such as resveratrol and p-coumaric acid found in peanuts, as well as the increased level of short chain fatty acids and very long chain saturated fatty acids in plasma and feces associated with peanut consumption.
“This new research involves a group of young participants and points to the possible cognitive and mental health benefits from a relatively small daily serving of peanuts or peanut butter,” says Dr. Samara Sterling, a nutrition scientist and research director for The Peanut Institute. “When you break down the nutritional structure of peanuts, they have a unique combination of vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds, including resveratrol, niacin, vitamin E and coumaric acids, that can contribute to cognition and mental health.” This is first-of-its-kind research that points to the potential ‘brain benefits’ of peanut and peanut butter consumption in a younger demographic. The results show that a small addition to the diet can have a significant impact.
A 2021 study published in the Journal of the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease found that adults 60 to 80 years of age who did not eat peanuts and peanut butter regularly were 30% to 50% more likely to do poorly on tests measuring learning, memory, language, processing motor speed (the time it takes to process and react to information) and attentiveness compared to those who did.2
In a separate 2018 study of adults 55 and older, higher cognitive scores were associated with consuming just one serving (10 grams) of nuts daily — as well as a 40% decreased likelihood of poor cognitive function.3
Researchers point to the polyphenols and various fatty acids in peanuts that likely contributed to these results. Additional vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds found in peanuts that are beneficial for brain health include:
- Niacin: In a study of adults 65 and older, those who consumed more niacin showed a slower rate of cognitive decline and a 70% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease4 — peanuts are an excellent source of niacin.
- Vitamin E: Found to promote healthy brain aging and delay cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease.5 Peanuts are considered a “good source” of vitamin E.
- Resveratrol: A bioactive found in peanuts, resveratrol is believed to be beneficial in fighting against Alzheimer’s disease and other nerve degenerating diseases.6
- p-coumaric Acid: An antioxidant that appears to target the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood, stress and anxiety. In 2014, authors of a study on p-coumaric acid noted that it may have similar effects for reducing stress as a leading anxiety-reducing drug, Diazepam.7
Even peanut skins have been found to deliver benefits. A 2016 randomized controlled trial found that peanuts eaten with skins improved both cerebrovascular and cognitive function in men and women.8
This new research supports the growing evidence of ‘food as medicine’ and the benefits that healthy food choices can have on both the young and old. Peanuts and peanut butter are an affordable and versatile way to load up on vitamins and minerals that can promote cognitive and mental health.
- Parilli-Moser, I., et al., Consumption of peanut products improves memory and stress response in healthy adults from the ARISTOTLE study: A 6-month randomized controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition, 2021.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2021.09.020
- Katzman, E.W., Nielsen, S.J. The Association between Peanut and Peanut Butter Consumption and Cognitive Function among Community-Dwelling Older Adults. J Prev Alzheimers Dis (2021). https://doi.org/10.14283/jpad.2021.32
- Li, M., Shi, Z. A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ _ China Health and Nutrition Survey. J Nutr Health Aging 23, 211–216 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2003.025858. PMID: 15258207; PMCID: PMC1739176.
- La Fata G, Weber P, Mohajeri MH. Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5453-5472. Published 2014 Nov 28. doi:10.3390/nu6125453
- Chen J, Zhou Y, Mueller-Steiner S, Chen LF, Kwon H, Yi S, Mucke L, Gan L. SIRT1 protects against microglia-dependent amyloid-beta toxicity through inhibiting NF-kappaB signaling. J Biol Chem. 2005 Dec 2;280(48):40364-74. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M509329200. Epub 2005 Sep 23. PMID: 16183991.
- Scheepens A, Bisson JF, Skinner M. p-Coumaric acid activates the GABA-A receptor in vitro and is orally anxiolytic in vivo. Phytother Res. 2014 Feb;28(2):207-11. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4968. Epub 2013 Mar 26. PMID: 23533066.
- Barbour JA, Howe PRC, Buckley JD, Bryan J, Coates AM. Cerebrovascular and cognitive benefits of high-oleic peanut consumption in healthy overweight middle-aged adults. Nutr Neurosci. 2017 Dec;20(10):555-562. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2016.1204744. Epub 2016 Jul 7. PMID: 27386745.
SOURCE University of Barcelona