Food and Health ( I ) --

The Brain Nourishing Effect of Walnut


Many of walnutís nutrient contents are very helpful to the growth of the nervous system, performing complementary effects in the process of uptake by the brain. They are the nutrients that can be rapidly absorbed and utilized by the brain.




Lecturer / Sun Don Lee (Leader of Forshang Buddhism)
Writer /   Chang-Ming Chern, M.D.
Attending Physician, Neurological Institute, Veterans

General Hospital-Taipei

Bo-Chun Hu Graduate Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, Fu-Jen University

Hung-Ru Chen Zon Shing United Chinese Medical Clinic
Translator / Helena Chou (Resident Instructor of Forshang Buddhism World Center, LA Branch)
Photo / Thomas J. Payne


The intake of food is essential for the majority of lives. The energy and nutrition yielded from food support various physiological functions such as growth,  metabolism, and regulation. Food plays a much more complicated role in human life as compared to animal life. Various factors like race, religion, family, and personal taste all affect our peculiar inclinations and needs for food. In addition, recipes and seasonings are used to add flavors to foods such that our appetite can be better satisfied. These phenomena are hardly found among other life forms.

However, indulgence in food has drawbacks. Many fatal diseases like cancer, heart disease, etc., have been proven to be closely related to inappropriate diet.  As people are getting more health conscious while there is rapid advancement in Food and Nutrition Sciences and other related disciplines, the value of food is no longer solely judged from nutritional point of view (how to eat enough and eat well), but health point of view (how to eat healthily). It was found in many studies that food may help strengthen physiological functions, posses antioxidation capacity, and improve immune capability besides meeting basic biological needs. Scientists also found that some components of food showed considerable psychological effects. Therefore, Food Science also touches upon health maintenance, illness prevention and treatment. All of these testify to what is said in traditional medicine "try food before you try medicine" as well as the scientific concept of the traditional Chinese medicine, in which many different animals and plants have been used for treatment.

The physiological and pharmacological mechanisms of food will be the main research focus in Nutrition and Dietary Sciences in this century. In the past decade, Master Sun-Don Lee has made many profound instructions in classes on a variety of common foods, from animals or vegetables, in his answers to studentís questions in regard to health problems, hoping to help heal diseases or improve health status for his students with simple diet therapy. A majority of these instructions are original, which could be quite inspirational to research in nutrition or medicine. In the case of human brain development, Master Lee has instructed that walnut seed is able to strengthen the functions of the nervous system. Therefore, based on Master Leeís instructions, this article will concisely discuss the nutritional contents of walnut and its impact on human physiological functions from the perspective of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and its pharmacological mechanisms from the perspective of brain-supplement in the traditional Chinese medicine. We hope that the relevant information found in this article will further unveil the secret of walnut seed.


Master Sun-Don Leeís Instruction: the Brain Nourishing Effect of Walnut Seed

It is good to stir and fry walnut seed with black and white sesame, which benefits the brain. Walnut seed looks like the human brain in shape and is known to have the brain supplement effect based on the concept "to supplement form with like form". (However, you can not get the same effects with the pig brain although it also looks like human brain.)

However, what I said about the concept "to supplement form with like form" is different from what is usually understood. What is the most common fallacy among Chinese people? They misunderstand the meaning of these words. Since the brain grows in a particular shape, people think that "to supplement form with like form" means that we should look for foods in that shape to get benefit. In fact, we should look at these words from another perspective. The human brain grows into a particular shape. Why does another thing also grow into such a shape? The genes of walnut make its seed grow into a similar shape as that of the human brain. "To supplement form with like form" means that the energy developed in the growth of walnut seed coincides with that of the human brain. That is to say, the energy on which walnut grows (the nutritional contents) develops it into a particular form (shape) similar to human brain. Therefore, the "form" does not refer only to the appearance but also includes the specific structure of the food and its nutritional ingredients and other components, such as vitamins, etc.

The real meaning behind the concept "to supplement the brain with food of like form" is that certain nutrients in the food are much easier to be absorbed by the brain. Many ingredients in different foods are all helpful to the brain and the body except that some are more absorbable than others. That is because different nutrients of food interact in the process of absorption. Some interrupt while some promote the absorption of other ingredients. In the case of the walnut seed, many of its nutrient contents are very helpful to the growth of the nervous system, performing complementary effects in the process of uptake by the brain. They are the nutrients that can be rapidly absorbed and utilized by the brain, and therefore are very effective in supplying nutrition to the brain. This is supposedly the real meaning of the words "to supplement the brain with food of like form".

(excerpted from Master Lee's 2/24/00 and 3/9/00 class lectures in the Mental Doctrine Class in Taipei)


The Study of Walnut in the Sciences of Food and Nutrition


For many years, walnut has been regarded as a health food that is nutritious and delicious as well. Both the preventive and therapeutic effects of walnut are documented in the Chinese medicine and the Western folklore medicine.  Consequently, many scientists have long been engaged in the study of walnut.  Though scientific studies have not completely verified the mysterious healing effects of walnut, most of them are positive and affirmative in that aspect. From the viewpoints of nutrition, walnutís nutritive value can be primarily divided into the following aspects:

  1. The supplement of sufficient calories: Walnuts, like other nuts, are rich in calories. In the case of California walnut, each 100 grams edible portion provide approximately 630 kilocalories, approximately three or four times of that in rice. The calories in walnut come mainly from its abundant fat and protein. In the past, people living in some areas of the world relied heavily on walnuts to supplement energy needed in life. However, as life gets more affluent, walnut is not so highly valued for rich calories it contains, rather it becomes the food that weight watchers and beauty pursuers stay away from.

  2. Rich in essential fatty acid: Every 100 grams of edible portion of walnut contains as much as 68 grams of fat, in which a majority is the polyunsaturated fatty acid, such as Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid, accounting for 70% of the total fatty acid (Table 1). The rest are the monounsaturated fatty acid (18%) and the saturated fatty acid (12%). Therefore, though walnuts are rich in calories, its fatty acid is mainly the unsaturated acid that would not cause burden to human cardiovascular system. It is worth mentioning that walnuts contain rich Linoleic Acid (58%) and Linolenic Acid (12%), both are essential fatty acid in sustaining a healthy body. Especially, Linolenic Acid is an omega-3 type of fatty acid. 20:5n-3 (EPA) and 22:6n-3 (DHA) that become popular in recent years also belong to this omega-3 type, which is known for its significant effect of lowering blood lipid and cholesterol. 

  3. The source of quality protein: People usually weigh the quality over the quantity of protein. Walnuts, however, are excellent both in quality and quantity. Every 100 grams of edible walnuts contain 14.4 grams of protein, of which most are of good quality and is therefore easy to digest.  From walnutís amino acids (Table 2), we know that walnuts have a considerable variety of amino acids.  In addition to several essential amino acids that the human body cannot synthesize, it also contains many amino acids that are difficult to obtain from other vegetarian foods. Therefore, vegetarians are able to obtain all the proteins the body needs if taking walnut with other bean products.

  4. Rich in fiber: Walnut is rich in fiber. 9.7 grams of fiber contained in every 100 grams of edible walnuts, in addition to the plentiful fat, taking walnuts satisfies the stomach easily. Beside, fibers ingested help the stomach and bowel movement, digestion and excretion, preventing constipation. Some researches point out that fiber-rich foods help lower serum cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as heart diseases and stroke.

  5. Other vitamins and minerals: Walnuts contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. As for vitamins, the abundant fat in walnut carries fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and E, and it also contains water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, B1, B2, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and niacin. As for minerals, walnut has iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, etc. Among minerals, walnut is very low in sodium and in every 100 grams of edible walnut, there are only 10 milligrams of sodium, meeting the prevailing low sodium health concept. Besides the above-mentioned nutrients, there are several hundreds micronutrients, including several pigments, phenolic compounds, etc., which still remain to be studied scientifically. Based on the available information, these micronutrients interact with other nutrients in the body. Some of the micronutrients have such effects as anti-oxidation, immune stimulation, anti- carcinogenesis, and anti-infection.


The Pharmacological Mechanism of Walnut, and the Concept of the Brain Supplement Effect in the Chinese Medicine.

The Emperor Huangís Inner Classic Conversation, a Chinese medicine book from 2500 years ago, discussed about the brain in many places:

"The brain is inside the skull, connecting the spinal cord."

"The Du meridian of the extra eight meridians exists in the spine, connecting up to Fengfu, being part of the brain."

"The leg Greater Yang meridian governing bladder -- its top connects the brain"

The Chinese medicine believes that manís spirit, consciousness, and intellectual faculties are governed by heart and also related to liver and kidney.  Therefore, it is said that "the brain is the ocean of marrow; all the marrow are part of the brain; the area between the brain on the top and the end of spine at the bottom is the passage of the marrow". These statements explain that the "brain" is where all marrow merges. Lee Shi Chen in the Ming dynasty pointed out explicitly that "the brain is the house of the soul and that manís memorizing ability is in the brain". That further explains manís spirit, consciousness, and intellectual faculties are brain functions. He also thinks that all bodily movements, all the activities of the nervous system and the mental activities, such as vision, hearing, etc. are related to the brain. Ling Shu Hai Lun (medical theses on the ocean of marrow) says, "If the ocean of marrow is deficient, one suffers from vertigo, tinnitus, leg pain, dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue and sleepiness." Based on "the Theory of Organ Symptoms", we can relate the physiological, pathological, and intellectual activities of the brain to different organs: mainly, heart, liver, and kidney. (Editor: these are the names of the bio-energy system not the organs in its usual sense.)

  1. The heart stores the spirit: the heart is the leading organ that governs the spirit. Primarily, it governs the mental activities and intellectual faculties.

  2. The liver governs the physiological activities of excretion and muscular tissue, which are partially the brain functions. "Liver Chi stagnation", "liver Yang excess", "liver wind inner movement" are basically the symptoms of the central nervous system, while medications used to relieve the liver, smooth the liver, reduce Yang, and still the wind are effective to the central nervous system.

  3. The kidney stores the vitality. As the kidney generates marrow and the brain is the ocean of marrow, the kidney is closely related to the brain. "Kidney vitality deficiency" interferes with an infantís brain development and reduces an adultís or an elderlyís brain functions. "Kidney vitality deficiency" is what is generally known as the lack of kidney vitality, of which the major symptoms are dizziness, decrease of the intellectual ability, decrease of the reproductive function, the incomplete development of skeletal system, slow growth, dwarfism, slow intellectual activities, bone pain, difficulty in walking, slow mental state and physical actions.

The above are the brain disorders listed in "Yellow Emperorís Inner Classic", of which the names of the diseases or symptoms coincide with those of the Western medicine. Therefore, the Chinese medicine is scientific despite the fact that the systems described (such as heart, kidney, and liver) are based on the bio-energy systems of the body, which are different than those in the Western medicine.  Clinically, we have to see doctors in time for the treatment of major diseases or apparent symptoms. If someone feels tiredness, dizziness, lost of memory easily, hearing noises, waist and knee pain, and disorders of reproductive system, the kind of problems due to "kidney vitality deficiency", doctors of Chinese medicine would prescribe for the supplement of the kidney or the brain. The "supplement" means to benefit from what is supplemented. This treatment supplements things that are insufficient and benefits things that are declining. It enhances Yin, Yang, Chi, or blood with medicine, helps with the bodily functions of certain internal organs that are declining. This supplement treatment is basically divided into four categories: the supplement of Chi, blood, Yin, and Yang. In general, the medicine doctors prescribe for the benefit of the brain can also be obtained from ordinary foods (medicinal meal), as what Master Lee has instructed on the brain strengthening effect from animal or vegetarian foods.

Interestingly, the Chinese medicine has a form therapy that is based on the particular shape of the food: "to supplement form with like form". For example, the pig brain or liver has been considered to have the supplementing effect on the brain or liver, respectively because of their shape. Master Lee brought out a scientific explanation for this concept. He points out that it is a fallacy that people evaluate the medicinal effect of a food based on its similar form to a specific organ. The effect people get from the supplement of like form appears only in the condition that the ingredients and the appearance match precisely. Although the Chinese traditional medicine books do not list walnut seed as a brain-supplement herb, this effect is quite clear and definite in consideration of its shape and ingredients as well. Besides, according to the medical effects of walnut seed described in the traditional medicine texts, it indeed has the brain supplementing effect. In reference to the traditional medicine texts, walnut seeds supplement the kidney, benefit the brain, warm the lung, calm down the asthma, moisten the intestines, facilitate bowel movement, and heal skin wound and infection. Based on modern pharmacological study, walnut seeds have the following effects:

  1. Prevention of blood coagulation, facilitation of blood circulation and relief of obstructions.

  2. Anti-allergy, anti-inflammation.

  3. Dissolution of blood clots

  4. Improvement of liver dysfunction

  5. Prevention of immune dysfunction and inhibition of the formation of abnormal antibody.

  6. Promotion of protein synthesis, and reduction of serum cholesterol.

  7. Promotion of urination and discharge and dissolution of stones.

Consequently, Master Leeís instructions on walnut seed stand on clear and definite argumentation of the traditional Chinese medicine.

[ Table 1 ] Fatty Acids of Walnuts

Fatty Acids

Percentage of Total Fatty Acids

Saturated Fatty Acids, total


Palmtic acid


Stearic acid


Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, total


Gadoleic acid


Oleic acid


Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, total


Linoleic acid


Linolenic acid


Source: The Database of Nutrients in Foods of Taiwan.

[ Table 2 ]Amino Acids of Walnuts

Amino Acids

Amount in 100 Grams of Walnuts


566 mg


922 mg


388 mg


280 mg


345 mg


628 mg


439 mg


488 mg


139 mg


723 mg


2103 mg


359 mg


609 mg

Aspartic Acid

1475 mg

Glutamic Acid

2809 mg


755 mg


553 mg


782 mg

Total Essential Amino Acids

6676 mg

Total Non-essential Amino Acids

7767 mg

Total Amino Acids

14443 mg

Essential Amino Acids

Source1987 USDA Nutrient Database, Handbook 8







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