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Nutrition for Stroke Prevention

Nutrition for Stroke Prevention
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Eating soy foods can protect against stroke
Healthy eating habits are important in preventing a wide range of health problems, including stroke. A new review of the science looking at nutrition and stroke found that eating certain healthy foods and an overall healthy diet effectively reduces stroke risk.

Certain foods can help prevent stroke

The review, published in Nutrition Reviews, included 34 studies that examined the relationship between diet and stroke risk. Drawing on the findings from these studies, the reviewers made the following conclusions about specific foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables: People who eat three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day have a lower stroke risk than people who eat less than three.
  • Soy: Studies done in Japan suggest that eating soy foods can protect against stroke, but not enough research has been done to say whether soy foods have the same protective effect in other populations.
  • Fish: Eating a moderate amount of non-fried fish appears to be protective, but high levels may increase the risk of a type of stroke known as hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke involves bleeding in an area of the brain, while the more common type of stroke, called ischemic stroke, involves loss of blood flow to an area in the brain.
  • Whole grains: The evidence so far points toward a protective effect for whole grains, but more research is needed to draw a firm conclusion.
  • Animal foods: Eating eggs does not change stroke risk, but the relationships between meat and dairy consumption and stroke risk are still unclear.

Eating a healthy diet is also protective

The reviewers made the following conclusions about overall dietary patterns:

  • Prudent vs. Western diet: A prudent diet, characterized by high amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, is associated with a lower stroke risk, while a Western diet, which includes high meat, refined grain, and sweets consumption is linked to a higher stroke risk.
  • DASH: Following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) guidelines has been found to lower blood pressure and stroke risk. DASH emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, chicken, and fish, and limits red meat, sweets, and refined grains.
  • Mediterranean diet: This diet is characterized by high amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, moderate amounts of fish and wine, and low meat consumption. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a reduced stroke risk.
  • Low-fat diet: Although it appears that shifting from saturated fats to poly- and monounsaturated fats may help prevent stroke, cutting down on all dietary fats has no effect on stroke risk.

Lower your stroke risk

Based on all of these findings, eating a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables is the best-supported nutritional method for preventing stroke. Here are some other things to do to reduce your stroke risk:

  • Don't smoke. Smoking damages small arteries in the brain and increases the likelihood of forming a blood clot, dramatically increasing stroke risk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is associated with dangerous changes in the blood vessels that supply the brain, and puts an extra burden on the heart, leading to higher stroke risk.
  • Stay active. Physical activity, even into the senior years, has a clear benefit for stroke risk.

(Nutr Rev 2012;70:423-35)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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