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Effect of walnut consumption on neuropsychological development in healthy adolescents: a multi-school randomised controlled trial. 

Pinar-Martí, A., F. Gignac, S. Fernández-Barrés, D. Romaguera, A. Sala-Vila, I. Lázaro, O.T. Ranzani, C. Persavento, A. Delgado, A. Carol, J. Torrent, J. Gonzalez, E. Roso, J. Barrera-Gómez, M. López-Vicente, O. Boucher, M. Nieuwenhuijsen, M.C. Turner, M. Burgaleta, J. Canals,  V. Arija, X. Basagaña , E. Ros, J. Salas-Salvadó , J. Sunyer, J. Julvez, 2023. Effect of walnut consumption on neuropsychological development in healthy adolescents: a multi-school randomised controlled trial. EClinicalMedicine. 59, 101954.

Background: Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for neuropsychological functioning. Adolescence is increasingly believed to entail brain vulnerability to dietary intake. The potential benefit on adolescent neurodevelopment of consuming walnuts, a source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), remains unclear. Methods: We conducted a 6-month multi-school-based randomized controlled nutrition intervention trial to assess whether walnut consumption has beneficial effects on the neuropsychological and behavioral development of adolescents. The study took place between 04/01/2016 and 06/30/2017 in twelve different high schools in Barcelona, Spain ( Identifier: NCT02590848). A total of 771 healthy teenagers aged 11–16 years were randomized into two equal groups (intervention or control). The intervention group received 30 g/day of raw walnut kernels to be incorporated into their diet for 6 months. Multiple primary endpoints concerning neuropsychological (working memory, attention, fluid intelligence, and executive function) and behavioral (socioemotional and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] symptoms) development were assessed at baseline and after intervention. Red blood cell (RBC) ALA status was determined at baseline and 6 months as a measure of compliance. Main analyses were based on intention-to-treat using a linear mixed-effects model. A per-protocol effect of the intervention was analysed using inverse-probability weighting to account for post-randomization prognostic factors (including adherence) using generalized estimating equations. Findings: In intention-to-treat analyses, at 6 months there were no statistically significant changes between the intervention and control groups for all primary endpoints. RBC ALA (%) significantly increased only in the intervention group, coefficient = 0.04 (95% Confidence Interval (CI) = 0.03, 0.06; p < 0.0001). The per-protocol (adherence-adjusted) effect on improvement in attention score (hit reaction time variability) was −11.26 ms (95% CI = −19.92, −2.60; p = 0.011) for the intervention group as compared to the control group, improvement in fluid intelligence score was 1.78 (95% CI = 0.90, 2.67; p < 0.0001), and reduction of ADHD symptom score was −2.18 (95% CI = −3.70, −0.67; p = 0.0050). Interpretation Our study suggested that being prescribed eating walnuts for 6 months did not improve the neuropsychological function of healthy adolescents. However, improved sustained attention, fluid intelligence, and ADHD symptoms were observed in participants who better complied with the walnut intervention. This study provides a foundation for further clinical and epidemiological research on the effect of walnuts and ALA on neurodevelopment in adolescents.