<Research suggests that eating almonds in place of typical snacks may diminish the drop in heart rate
variability that occurs during mental stress, thereby improving cardiac function.>
This dietary strategy has the potential to increase cardiovascular resilience to mental stress, along with
other heart health benefits of consuming almonds such as lowering LDL-cholesterol and improving the
function of blood vessels.
The study by Dr Wendy Hall and Dr Sarah Berry, both from the School of Life Course Sciences,
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
study was funded by the Almond Board of California.
Mental stress is among the psychosocial factors thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD)
risk. Heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of the fluctuation in time intervals between consecutive
heartbeats, is an important indicator of the cardiovascular system’s response to stress and it is thought
that lifestyle factors including physical activity and diet might impact HRV. 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.
This new research finding was part of the ATTIS study a 6-week randomized 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% of each participants’ estimated daily energy needs.
In this study, researchers measured participants’ real-time heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV)
at rest (lying down for 5-minute periods) and during a Stroop test (in which participants were asked to
read colored words i.e. say “red” in a green font) to simulate short period of mental stress.
During acute mental stress, participants in the almond group showed better heart rate
regulationcompared to the control group, indicated by statistically significant differences in high frequency
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. 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. 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. In the long term, this is
beneficial for cardiovascular health.– Dr. Wendy Hall, PhD, co-principal investigator from the
School of Life Course Sciences
Dr Sarah Berry, PhD, from the School of Life Course Sciences, added:“These results are particularly
timely given the heightened levels of stress many of us are experiencing, alongside increased snacking,
from working at home."