Walnut intake, cognitive outcomes and risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Ann Med. 2021 Dec;53(1):971-997. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2021.1925955.


Background: Walnuts contain nutrients that are associated with improved cognitive health. To our knowledge, no review has systematically examined the effects of walnuts on cognitive function and risk for cognitive decline.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the effects of walnut intake on cognition-related outcomes and risk-factors for cognitive decline in adults.

Methods: Medline®, Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational studies published until April 2020 on walnut intake, cognition (e.g. cognitive function, stroke, and mood), and selected risk factors for cognitive decline (e.g. glucose homeostasis and inflammation). Risk-of-bias and strength-of-evidence assessments were conducted using standard validated tools. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted when ≥3 studies reported quantitative data for each outcome.

Results: 32 RCT and 7 observational study publications were included. Meta-analysis of cognition-related outcomes could not be conducted due to heterogeneity of tests. None of the 5 cognition RCTs found significant effects of walnuts on overall cognition, although 3 studies found improvements on subdomains and/or subgroups. All 7 observational studies found significant associations and a dose-response relationship between walnut intake and cognition-related outcomes. Meta-analyses of 27 RCTs reporting glucose homeostasis and inflammation outcomes, selected risk factors for cognitive decline, did not show significant effects of walnut intake.

Conclusions: Due to the non-uniformity of tests for cognition-related outcomes, definitive conclusions regarding the effect of walnut consumption on cognition could not be reached. Additionally, evidence does not show associations between walnut intake and glucose homeostasis or inflammation, cognitive decline risk-factors. High-quality studies with standardized measures are needed to clarify the role of walnuts in cognitive health.KEY MESSAGESThis is a systematic review and meta-analysis of 5 randomized clinical trials and 7 observational study articles of the impact of walnut intake on cognition decline and 27 randomized clinical trials of the effect of walnut intake on risk factors for cognitive decline including glucose homeostasis and inflammation.The non-uniformity of tests performed to measure cognitive function in the various studies did not allow for a meta-analysis of these studies. A definitive conclusion could therefore not be reached regarding the effect of walnut intake on cognitive decline.The evidence available does not show an association between walnut intake and glucose homeostasis or inflammation.

Keywords: HOMA-IR; HbA1c; Walnut; cognition; cognitive decline; depression; glucose metabolism; inflammation; mood; stroke.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / prevention & control
  • Diet
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Juglans*
  • Nuts*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Glucose

Grant support

The California Walnut Commission funded this work.