The Untapped Potential of Brazil Nuts

Are Brazil Nuts a Natural Health-Resource?

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Photo: Gadini / Pixabay

One of the broadest causes and contributors to many diseases is the process of inflammation. Inflammation is a coordinated response by the body to destroy damaged cells, pathogens or toxins, but this process can often cause collateral damage to the body. Further complications come when something we are allergic to, our diet, or even chronic diseases (like AIDS) trigger this collateral damage in a periodic or continual manner. Where do brazil nuts fit in here?…

Eating 1 brazil nut a day halved multiple inflammation indicators of kidney dialysis patients; after 3 months (1)! Inflammation dictates how chronic kidney disease develops, and inflammation even contributes to diabetes progression (2), so such a simple intervention is extremely profound. Moreover the natural systems to offset inflammatory damage were increased and activated (i.e. the antioxidant systems). Similar results were observed before (3), showing that this effect of brazil nuts is reproducible. So what’s so special about brazil nuts?

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Photo: GerDukes / Pixabay

Brazil nuts are the richest known food source of the element selenium (Se), and should probably be classified as a natural resource. Eating 2 brazil nuts daily has been shown to deliver selenium (Se) into the bloodstream (4). Interestingly, the brazil nuts in this study were slightly more effective than a supplement form of Se in activating the body’s circulating antioxidant power of “glutathione peroxidase” (GPx), even though the supplement contained slightly more Se (4)!

Brazil nuts are not just edible Se capsules from nature, but because there is so much medical significance around Se supplementation (5) and we know brazil nuts raise Se levels (4), brazil nuts remain a largely under-utilised medicinal resource. A real problem with inflammatory damage is excess oxidation; a process similar to the mechanism that makes apples, bananas and avocados go brown. Brazil nuts are potent against inflammation because they activate our anti-oxidant systems with Se. As such the following effects of Se supplements could be provided by eating brazil nuts, possibly more effectively.

Se supplements have been repeatedly shown to improve the outcomes of AIDS patients; the amount of HIV (virus) in the bloodstream was decreased and the white blood cells that are usually lowered during disease actually increased in number (6, 7). When analysed further, the body’s own antioxidant system “thioredoxin 1” (TR1) is empowered to interfere with and reduce the HIV virus’s ability to multiply (8). Brazil nuts have not directly been tested for their effect on AIDS progression, but based on their effectiveness as a “natural Se supplement” there may be scope.

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Photo: qimono / Pixabay

As detailed previously in the article “What a Vegan Diet Could Do for Your Gut Microbes”, bad gut microbes are “bad” mainly because they cause inflammation in the gut (9). Not so surprisingly, Se supplementation boosts good gut microbe numbers, increases the diversity of gut microbes, lowers inflammation and improves gut health (10, 11). Once again, data has not yet been produced on the direct effect of brazil nuts on human gut microbes, but the brazil nut-Se link may be a conduit for remedy in this area as well.

The medicinal potential of brazil nuts even extends to cancer. The risk of prostate cancer is lowered by around 50% in men who took Se supplements (12). Moreover, observations on the effectiveness of Se supplements in treating or preventing skin (13), gastric, oesophageal and other cancers (14) were confirmed when brazil nuts were tested directly on gene expression. Healthy people considered “at-risk” for colorectal cancer were not given Se supplements this time but 6 brazil nuts daily, and experienced healthy changes in multiple indicators for colorectal cancer after 6 weeks (15). Brazil nuts may protect against colorectal cancer, and several other cancers(!)

As discussed previously, it is possible that simpler dietary recommendations are being bypassed for the increasing number of sophisticated interventions currently in use for treating the diseases listed above. In all fairness, the current strategies wouldn’t be employed if they were not saving lives. Also, there may be an increasing trend of a few practising doctors prescribing food for chronic diseases. But if health is wealth, brazil nuts may be a tasty, undervalued commodity with the untapped potential to prevent and treat several of humanity’s inflammatory diseases.

Please note: high antioxidant intake in the form of plant foods is associated with reduced risk of death by lymphoma [16], respiratory diseases [17] and risk of developing Parkinson’s disease [18], alongside other benefits [17, 19].

Disclaimer: If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor before implementing the opinions in this article.

N. Baiden PhD.


1. Cardozo, L. F. M. F., Stockler-Pinto, M. B., and Mafra, D. (2016) Brazil nut consumption modulates Nrf2 expression in hemodialysis patients: A pilot study. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 60, 1719–1724

2. Kim, H. J., and Vaziri, N. D. (2010) Contribution of impaired Nrf2-Keap1 pathway to oxidative stress and inflammation in chronic renal failure. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology 298, F662-F671

3. Stockler-Pinto, M. B., Mafra, D., Moraes, C., Lobo, J., Boaventura, G. T., Farage, N. E., Silva, W. S., Cozzolino, S. F., and Malm, O. (2014) Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa, HBK) Improves Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Biomarkers in Hemodialysis Patients. Biological Trace Element Research 158, 105–112

4. Thomson, C. D., Chisholm, A., McLachlan, S. K., and Campbell, J. M. (2008) Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87, 379–384

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7. Stone, C. A., Kawai, K., Kupka, R., and Fawzi, W. W. (2010) Role of selenium in HIV infection. Nutrition Reviews 68, 671–681

8. Kalantari, P., Narayan, V., Natarajan, S. K., Muralidhar, K., Gandhi, U. H., Vunta, H., Henderson, A. J., and Prabhu, K. S. (2008) Thioredoxin Reductase-1 Negatively Regulates HIV-1 Transactivating Protein Tat-dependent Transcription in Human Macrophages. Journal of Biological Chemistry 283, 33183–33190

9. Glick-Bauer, M., and Yeh, M.-C. (2014) The Health Advantage of a Vegan Diet: Exploring the Gut Microbiota Connection. Nutrients 6, 4822–4838

10. Zhang, Y.-Z., and Li, Y.-Y. (2014) Inflammatory bowel disease: Pathogenesis. World Journal of Gastroenterology 20, 91–99

11. Nettleford, S. K., and Prabhu, K. S. (2018) Selenium and Selenoproteins in Gut Inflammation-A Review. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland) 7

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13. Clark, L. C., Combs, G. F., Turnbull, B. W., Slate, E. H., Chalker, D. K., Chow, J., Davis, L. S., Glover, R. A., Graham, G. F., Gross, E. G., Krongrad, A., Lesher, J. L., Park, H. K., Sanders, B. B., Smith, C. L., and Taylor, J. R. (1996) Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin a randomized controlled trial — A randomized controlled trial. Jama-Journal of the American Medical Association 276, 1957–1963

14. Yang, C. S., Chen, J. X., Wang, H., and Lim, J. (2016) Lessons learned from cancer prevention studies with nutrients and non-nutritive dietary constituents. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 60, 1239–1250

15. Hu, Y., McIntosh, G. H., Le Leu, R. K., Somashekar, R., Meng, X. Q., Gopalsamy, G., Bambaca, L., McKinnon, R. A., and Young, G. P. (2016) Supplementation with Brazil nuts and green tea extract regulates targeted biomarkers related to colorectal cancer risk in humans. British Journal of Nutrition 116, 1901–1911

16. Thompson, C. A., Habermann, T. M., Wang, A. H., Vierkant, R. A., Folsom, A. R., Ross, J. A. and Cerhan, J. R. (2010) Antioxidant intake from fruits, vegetables and other sources and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. International Journal of Cancer. 126, 992–1003

17. Lv, J., Qi, L., Yu, C., Yang, L., Guo, Y., Chen, Y., Bian, Z., Sun, D., Du, J., Ge, P., Tang, Z., Hou, W., Li, Y., Chen, J., Chen, Z., Li, L. and China Kadoorie Biobank, C. (2015) Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. Bmj-British Medical Journal. 351

18. Gao, X., Cassidy, A., Schwarzschild, M. A., Rimm, E. B. and Ascherio, A. (2012) Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 78, 1138–1145

19. Greger, M. and Stone, G. (2015) How Not To Die. Flatiron Books

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