MyMT™ Blog

MyMT™ Education: The Wonder of Walnuts to Decrease Cardiovascular Risk in Midlife Women

As you drive from Portsmouth to Reading in the United Kingdom, you pass one of King Charles’ organic farms and his farm shop. With a focus on Heart Health week this week, I was revisiting some of the fabulous nutrition research about the wonder of walnuts for women’s heart health, hence my memory about my visit to this shop to buy some walnuts, on my way to one of my UK Masterclass on Menopause live events.  

I remember thinking at the time, whether he knew how important walnuts are to women’s healthy ageing, especially in relation to helping them to enhance progesterone levels and help their cardiovascular health as they aged. 

Foods may not directly contain progesterone (apart from butter and other dairy products), but some foods could help trigger the natural progesterone production in your body.

Walnuts do this, because not only do they contain contain plant sterols which can stimulate the production of progesterone in women, but they are also rich in Vitamin B6, which also helps to raise progesterone production.  

We often don’t think about the role of progesterone as we move through menopause into post-menopause, but with a focus on Heart Health in my newsletters this month, I want to draw your attention to cardiovascular health and lifestyle solutions for your clients – hence, this article about walnuts! 

Walnuts improve endothelial (blood vessel) function, decrease both oxidative stress and some markers of inflammation, and increase cholesterol efflux, i.e. the compounds in walnuts help harmful LDL-cholesterol to be carried away from blood vessel walls by beneficial HDL-cholesterol. 

When it comes to helping clients to manage cardiovascular changes that accelerate during the menopause to post-menopause transition, the effect of walnuts on multiple CVD targets over relatively short periods of time supports their inclusion in a heart-healthy diet. [Kris-Etherton, 2014].

Menopause itself is recognised as an inflammatory event in a woman’s life-cycle (McCarthy & Raval, 2020), hence, why I’m always focusing women who join me in the MyMT™ coaching community, on anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle changes that are specific to this age and stage of life. 

I’m also focusing them on foods that contain progesterone. This  includes walnuts.

Walnuts Decrease Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Four major cohort studies conducted in the United States (Adventist Health Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Nurses Health Study, the Physicians Health Study) have all demonstrated a consistent dose-response decrease in coronary heart disease (CHD) risk with increasing nut consumption on at least 5 days per week. [Kris-Etherton, 2014]. These large cohort studies emphasize that for women especially, there is a need to encourage walnut consumption to our midlife clients. 

Nuts, especially walnuts, are also a rich source of many bioactive compounds that have antioxidant properties, including tocopherols, phenolic compounds, phytosterols, melatonin, and selenium. These are important nutrients for women to help combat fatigue, improve sleep and to reduce inflammation. 

But there is also more to the benefits of walnuts. These benefits are to do with how they also help to balance up progesterone levels in menopausal women. And for women who are regular exercisers and are constantly tired, this is important information! 

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Walnuts Contain Progesterone-Producing Vitamin B6

Progesterone isn’t always a hormone that gets discussed in menopause conversations. The star of the show is primarily oestrogen. However, all hormones work in ‘partnership’ with another hormone and progesterone is the hormone that works with oestrogen.

There has been a lot of research undertaken when it comes to progesterone, but this has generally been in relation to pregnancy. During pregnancy, progesterone levels increase, allowing for normal pregnancy establishment and maintenance. [McGlade et al, 2022].

Researchers now better understand that the dysregulation or imbalance of progesterone, can lead to inflammation, which in turn may lead to poor pregnancy outcomes.

When I began to explore the decline of all the reproductive hormones in a woman’s menopause transition, I discovered that when progesterone declines too rapidly during menopause, this may accelerate inflammatory changes around the body, especially if magnesium status is low.

Part of the reason for this, is because progesterone signaling regulates the inflammatory response and when progesterone is naturally declining, this becomes one of the ‘triggers’ for inflammatory changes in the body as women age. 

In female athletes, high stress levels, over-training syndrome and inadequate energy intake or low body fat, is well known to impact the production of progesterone, causing it to decline in production, especially if they are amenorrheic (cessation of periods). 

Those female athletes with low progesterone levels typically experience feelings of anxiety and poor moods, irregular periods, decreased fertility, poor sleep, less adaptation to training, sore joints and poor muscular development. [Castanier et al, 2021].

If you think any of these symptoms sound familiar based on what your clients are telling you, then you are correct! Progesterone as a hormone medication, in the form of progestin, is often prescribed to women experiencing these symptoms in peri-menopause by their Doctor, but what about food choices that give us natural progesterone which also helps to combat increased inflammatory changes? 

Walnuts Improve the Overall Health of Women as they Age

Positioning our menopause transition into women’s healthy ageing research changed my life and it’s now changing thousands of other women’s lives too. The fog has cleared literally, on what we must eat to ‘age healthily’. 

One of these ‘must-eat’ foods, unless women are allergic, is walnuts. 

Women consuming nuts at midlife have a greater likelihood of overall health and well-being at older ages. According to researchers undertaking a large study of nut consumption in mid-life women, eating walnuts may represent a simple intervention to explore and promote healthy aging.

In the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), researchers reported that better diet quality and a greater dietary flavonoid intake at midlife were related to a greater likelihood of overall health and well-being in women as they age. 

In over 33,000 middle-aged NHS nurses, researchers observed a significant association between consumption of nuts at midlife and healthy aging.

This was broadly defined across four domains –

  1. Chronic diseases,
  2. Mental health, 
  3. Cognitive function
  4. Physical function.

When analyzing several specific types of nuts, walnut consumption appeared to have the strongest relation with healthy ageing. 

Walnuts feature in the list of anti-inflammatory foods in my comprehensive Food Guide that women receive as part of my 12 week programmes. Not only do walnuts contain good fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), but it’s these PUFAs that are beneficial for immune and cardiovascular health, primarily because these fats assist in transporting fat-soluble vitamins around the body.

These vitamins are A, D, E and K – many of which can be low in women as they transition menopause, especially if women already have health concerns as they enter their mid-life transition.

Walnuts are also a valuable vegetarian source of the essential fatty acid omega-3.

They contain iron, selenium, calcium, zinc, vitamin E and some B vitamins – all of which contribute to our energy levels as we transition through menopause. If you look closely at menopause supplements, many of these nutrients are added into the supplements too, but tend to be highly processed. 

There is so much confusion about food choices these days isn’t there?

Which is why I decided to put some research into the specific nutrients that help to reduce menopause symptoms. For those of you doing the Practitioner programme, you receive much of these findings. 

As I often mention in my live-events, the future for women is to focus on their health as they age, especially if health changes are already occurring. And for many, this means that food is also their medicine. 

Dr Wendy Sweet [PhD/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher and Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.


Castanier C, Bougault V, Teulier C, Jaffré C, Schiano-Lomoriello S, Vibarel-Rebot N, Villemain A, Rieth N, Le-Scanff C, Buisson C, Collomp K. The Specificities of Elite Female Athletes: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Life (Basel). 2021 Jun 26;11(7):622.

Freitas-Simoes, T., Wagner M., et. al. (2020). Consumption of nuts at mid-life and healthy aging in women. J. of Aging Research, Volume 2020, Article ID 5651737, pp. 1-7.

Hardman WE, Primerano DA, Legenza MT, Morgan J, Fan J, Denvir J. Dietary walnut altered gene expressions related to tumor growth, survival, and metastasis in breast cancer patients: a pilot clinical trial. Nutr Res. 2019 Jun;66:82-94.

Herrera AY, Nielsen SE, Mather M. Stress-induced increases in progesterone and cortisol in naturally cycling women. Neurobiol Stress. 2016 Feb 11;3:96-104. 

Kolanu BR, Vadakedath S, Boddula V, Kandi V. Activities of Serum Magnesium and Thyroid Hormones in Pre-, Peri-, and Post-menopausal Women. Cureus. 2020 Jan 3;12(1):e6554. doi: 10.7759/cureus.6554.

Kris-Etherton PM. Walnuts decrease risk of cardiovascular disease: a summary of efficacy and biologic mechanisms. J Nutr. 2014 Apr;144(4 Suppl):547S-554S. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.182907.

McCarthy M, Raval AP. The peri-menopause in a woman’s life: a systemic inflammatory phase that enables later neurodegenerative disease. J Neuroinflammation. 2020 Oct 23;17(1):317.

McGlade EA, Miyamoto A, Winuthayanon W. Progesterone and inflammatory response in the oviduct during physiological and pathological Conditions. Cells. 2022 Mar 23;11(7):1075.

Murray, C.J.L. The Global Burden of Disease Study at 30 years. Nat Med 28, 2019–2026 (2022).

Steck, S., Shivappa, N. et al. (2014). The Dietary Inflammatory Index: a new tool for assessing dietary quality based on inflammatory potential. The Digest, Vol. 49, July, 2014. 

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