FDA: Walnuts are Drugs

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OK, my last post on the food=drugs confusion was about Cheerios, but this one is even “nuttier”. This week FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Foods for their health claims about walnuts. Now walnuts (like many nuts) are superfoods, rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids, low in carbs, and high in protein. However, the FDA now considers any “health claim” to define a drug. Meaning that if someone advertises that anything is good for you without first seeking FDA approval, then the agency has this interesting habit of calling that “thing” a drug. The problem with this definition is that pretty much everything involving health then comes under federal agency control, including walnuts. Obviously, the makers of walnuts can’t afford a 1 billion dollar new drug application through the FDA, nor would there be any societal benefit from Diamond Foods taking this path. In fact, it would guarantee that the bag of walnuts you pick up on Thanksgiving would have to cost $1,000. Now if the maker of certain health foods isn’t allowed to wax poetic about the health benefits of the food that it sells, who is supposed to educate the public about these health benefits? I guess only the agency and only when that food has passed double blind placebo controlled trials that nobody can afford to fund (unless you’re willing to pay drug prices for your walnuts). Now walnuts do have a bunch of research to support that may help improve heart health. Some interesting studies (adapted from Life Extension):

-The March 4, 1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published the first clinical study showing significant reductions in dangerous LDL and improvement in the lipoprotein profile in response to moderate consumption of walnuts. 6 Later studies revealed that walnuts improve endothelial function in ways that are independent of cholesterol reduction.

-One study published by the American Heart Association on April 6, 2004 showed a 64% improvement in a measurement of endothelial function when walnuts were substituted for other fats in a Mediterranean diet.

So where is this headed? Ultimately a show down between the natural foods industry and the FDA. Just “nutty” in my opinion…

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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