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Pistachios May Reduce Lung Cancer, Cardiovascular Risk


A study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center indicates that pistachios may be helpful in reducing the risk of lung cancer, while two other studies report that these healthy nuts may lower cardiovascular risk. Results of the MD Anderson Cancer Center study were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers Cancer Prevention Research Conference.

Pistachios are a very nutritious variety of nut, providing more than 30 different nutrients. They are considered to be a great source of copper, manganese, and phosphorus, which are important for strong bones; various antioxidants, including gamma-tocopherol (vitamin D), which help prevent cell damage; lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health; and fiber, beneficial for cholesterol and heart health.

Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center set out to evaluate whether eating pistachios would increase dietary intake and serum levels of gamma-tocopherol. Experts believe a diet that contains pistachios may help reduce the risk of lung cancer as well as other cancers. Previous studies have suggested that gamma-tocopherol protects against prostate cancer.

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The study involved 36 participants who were randomized to receive either 68 grams (about 2 ounces) of pistachios daily or a placebo. During the six-week study, which consisted of a two-week baseline period followed by a four-week intervention (consuming pistachios) period, the researchers noted a significant increase in energy-adjusted dietary intake of gamma-tocopherol at weeks 3 and 4 compared with controls.

In two other studies, researchers found that pistachio consumption had a significant effect on blood lipid levels (cholesterol, triglycerides) and antioxidant activity. In a study conducted in Turkey, investigators found that pistachio intake significantly decreased triglyceride levels and increased antioxidant activity in rats with high lipid levels. In a second study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, experts evaluated the impact of pistachio intake in 28 participants. Overall the researchers found that daily consumption of pistachios lowered total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol/HDL cholesterol, and non-HDL cholesterol/HDL cholesterol, all important risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Although pistachios are a high-fat, high-calorie food, they contain healthy fats and significant amounts of healthful gamma-tocopherol. When consumed in reasonable amounts (1 to 2 ounces daily), they may help provide protection against lung cancer and other types of cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. Along with pistachios, gamma-tocopherol is also found in significant levels in walnuts, pecans, and peanuts.

Alturfan AA et al. Folia Biol Praha 2009; 55(4): 132-36
American Association for Cancer Research
Gebauer SK et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2008 Sep; 88(3): 651-59