Walnuts and Vegetable Oils Containing Oleic Acid Differentially Affect the Gut Microbiota and Associations with Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Follow-up of a Randomized, Controlled, Feeding Trial in Adults at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease.

The Journal of nutrition. 2020;150(4):806-817

Plain language summary

Recent evidence suggests that microbes present in the gut may have a role in the risk of heart disease development. Walnuts have in previous studies shown to be of benefit for cardiovascular health and gut microbes are thought to be the mediator of this. This secondary analysis of a randomised control trial aimed to assess diets which differentiated in walnut composition on the species diversity of gut microbes and heart disease risk in 46 individuals with obesity over an 18-week period. The results showed that a diet of walnuts and the fats they contain enriched the microbes present in the gut compared to a Western-style diet. Interestingly, a whole walnut diet showed enrichment of a species that is better able to break down and use the components of walnuts compared to a diet where only the walnut fats were present. When on a diet rich in walnuts, an increase in a species of gut bacteria related to improved heart disease risk factors was observed. It was concluded that the positive effects of walnuts on gut bacteria and heart disease risk are due to the fibre and bioactive compounds, not simply the fats they contain. This study could be used by health care professionals to recommend the inclusion of whole walnuts into the diet of individuals with obesity to enrich gut bacteria that are involved in reducing heart disease risk.


BACKGROUND It is unclear whether the favorable effects of walnuts on the gut microbiota are attributable to the fatty acids, including α-linolenic acid (ALA), and/or the bioactive compounds and fiber. OBJECTIVE This study examined between-diet gut bacterial differences in individuals at increased cardiovascular risk following diets that replace SFAs with walnuts or vegetable oils. METHODS Forty-two adults at cardiovascular risk were included in a randomized, crossover, controlled-feeding trial that provided a 2-wk standard Western diet (SWD) run-in and three 6-wk isocaloric study diets: a diet containing whole walnuts (WD; 57-99 g/d walnuts; 2.7% ALA), a fatty acid-matched diet devoid of walnuts (walnut fatty acid-matched diet; WFMD; 2.6% ALA), and a diet replacing ALA with oleic acid without walnuts (oleic acid replaces ALA diet; ORAD; 0.4% ALA). Fecal samples were collected following the run-in and study diets to assess gut microbiota with 16S rRNA sequencing and Qiime2 for amplicon sequence variant picking. RESULTS Subjects had elevated BMI (30 ± 1 kg/m2), blood pressure (121 ± 2/77 ± 1 mmHg), and LDL cholesterol (120 ± 5 mg/dL). Following the WD, Roseburia [relative abundance (RA) = 4.2%, linear discriminant analysis (LDA) = 4], Eubacterium eligensgroup (RA = 1.4%, LDA = 4), LachnospiraceaeUCG001 (RA = 1.2%, LDA = 3.2), Lachnospiraceae UCG004 (RA = 1.0%, LDA = 3), and Leuconostocaceae (RA = 0.03%, LDA = 2.8) were most abundant relative to taxa in the SWD (P ≤ 0.05 for all). The WD was also enriched in Gordonibacter relative to the WFMD. Roseburia (3.6%, LDA = 4) and Eubacterium eligensgroup (RA = 1.5%, LDA = 3.4) were abundant following the WFMD, and Clostridialesvadin BB60group (RA = 0.3%, LDA = 2) and gutmetagenome (RA = 0.2%, LDA = 2) were most abundant following the ORAD relative to the SWD (P ≤ 0.05 for all). Lachnospiraceae were inversely correlated with blood pressure and lipid/lipoprotein measurements following the WD. CONCLUSIONS The results indicate similar enrichment of Roseburia following the WD and WFMD, which could be explained by the fatty acid composition. Gordonibacter enrichment and the inverse association between Lachnospiraceae and cardiovascular risk factors following the WD suggest that the gut microbiota may contribute to the health benefits of walnut consumption in adults at cardiovascular risk. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT02210767.

Lifestyle medicine

Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Cardiovascular disease
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition
Functional Laboratory Testing : Blood ; Stool
Bioactive Substances : Fibre ; Hydrolysable tannins

Methodological quality

Jadad score : 1
Allocation concealment : No


Nutrition Evidence keywords : Gut microbiota ; Walnuts