Eating almonds in place of typical snacks may reduce the drop in heart rate variability (HRV) that occurs during mental stress, thereby improving cardiac function, a study claims.
While HRV is a measure of the fluctuation in time intervals between consecutive heartbeats, cardiac function is the ability of the heart to meet the metabolic demands of the body.
The dietary strategy in the research has the potential to increase cardiovascular resilience to mental stress, along with other heart health benefits of consuming almonds, according to the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Mental stress is among the psychosocial factors thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, researchers from King’s College London in the UK said in a statement.
HRV is an important indicator of the cardiovascular system’s response to stress, they said.
It is thought that lifestyle factors including physical activity and diet might impact HRV, according to the researchers.
Higher HRV represents greater adaptability of the heart in response to environmental and psychological challenges, while low HRV is linked to cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death, the researchers said.
They measured HRV in participants undergoing a mental stress challenge and saw improved measures of HRV in participants who had been replacing typical snacks with almonds over a six-week period.
The finding was part of the ATTIS study, a 6-week randomised control, parallel-arm trial, where participants with above average cardiovascular disease risk consumed a daily snack of almonds or a calorie-matched control snack providing 20 per cent of each participants’ estimated daily energy needs.
The team measured participants’ real-time heart rate (HR) and HRV at rest — lying down for 5-minute periods — and during a Stroop test, in which participants were asked to read coloured words to simulate short period of mental stress.
During acute mental stress, participants in the almond group showed better heart rate regulation compared to the control group, indicated by statistically significant differences in high frequency power, which specifically evaluates beat-to-beat intervals, a measure of HRV, the researchers said.
“This study shows that the simple dietary strategy of swapping almonds for typical snacks may bolster resilience to the adverse cardiovascular effects of mental stress by improving regulation of heart rate,” Wendy Hall, co-principal investigator from the King’s College London.
“We found that the stress-induced reduction in heart rate variability was lessened in the almond group compared to control following the dietary intervention, which indicates a cardiovascular health benefit,” Hall said in statement.
She said it is useful to think of having a higher HRV as the heart being able to switch gears faster in response to demands on the body, which means more cardiac resilience and flexibility during periods of stress, adding that in the long term, this is beneficial for cardiovascular health.
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