Subject: Gut microbiota
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, phytochemicals and antioxidants making them unique compared to other foods. Consuming walnuts has been associated with health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome has been linked to several chronic diseases. One potential mechanism by which walnuts may exert their health benefit is through modifying the gut microbiome. This study identified the changes in the gut microbial communities that occur following the inclusion of walnuts in the diet. Male Fischer 344 rats (n=20) were randomly assigned to one of two diets for as long as 10 weeks: (1) walnut (W), and (2) replacement (R) in which the fat, fiber, and protein in walnuts were matched with corn oil, protein casein, and a cellulose fiber source. Intestinal samples were collected from the descending colon, the DNA isolated, and the V3-V4 hypervariable region of 16S rRNA gene deep sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq for characterization of the gut microbiota. Body weight and food intake did not differ significantly between the two diet groups. The diet groups had distinct microbial communities with animals consuming walnuts displaying significantly greater species diversity. Walnuts increased the abundance of Firmicutes and reduced the abundance of Bacteriodetes. Walnuts enriched the microbiota for probiotic-type bacteria including Lactobacillus, Ruminococcaceae, and Roseburia while significantly reducing Bacteroides and Anaerotruncus. The class Alphaproteobacteria was also reduced. Walnut consumption altered the gut microbial community suggesting a new mechanism by which walnuts may confer their beneficial health effects.