—A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD
Famous for pies and, when combined with butter, for ice cream, the pecan has stumbled into the medical world and found itself at the centre of a new study.
Researchers have found that eating about a handful of pecans each day may play a role in protecting the nervous system. It must be said that this study was conducted in the laboratory, with mice, but this is where all preliminary studies begin. The results here are worth knowing about, and can easily be applied with absolutely no safety risks (except if you are allergic to pecans).
The study, out of the University of Massachusetts, was published in the current issue of “Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research.” It suggests that adding pecans to your diet may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration. This wordy term tends to include such disorders as Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known by the acronym ALS.
The key ingredient is vitamin E. This potent antioxidant is found in high amounts in pecans, and may provide the neurological protection shown in the study. Antioxidants are nutrients found in foods that help protect against cell damage and, as studies have shown, could help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and heart disease. Of all the tree nuts in the world, pecans are the richest in antioxidants. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pecans are among the top 15 foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity.
Now for the nitty-gritty. Researchers carried out many studies on three groups of mice specifically bred to demonstrate severe decline in motor neuron function. Each group was fed a control diet or one of two diets containing differing amounts of pecans ground into their food. Standard testing methods were used to determine motor neuron functions in the mice before and after the study.
Those who ate ground pecans displayed a “significant delay” in decline in motor function, compared to mice receiving no pecans. Those eating the most pecans had the greatest result. They arrived at these results based on how mice performed in specific tests.
A handful of pecans will also provide you with more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and several B vitamins, according to the National Pecan Shellers Association. Pecans are naturally cholesterol-free and sodium-free.