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Healthy Diet, Not Supplements May Reduce Stroke Risk


Although you may find it easier to pop a few supplement capsules to reduce your risk of stroke, research indicates that eating a healthy diet, and not taking pills, is the best way to lower your risk. The new report, which appears in The Lancet Neurology, reports that antioxidants and B vitamins, which are popular supplements, do not prevent stroke.

Go Mediterranean or DASH to reduce stroke risk

In the time it takes you to read this article, someone in the United States will have a stroke. About 795,000 people suffer a stroke in the United States each year, and more than 140,000 people die annually.

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If you want to try to avoid being a part of these statistics, eating a healthy diet can help. Some popular diets, such as the Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which are low in saturated fats, salt, and added sugars and high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and potassium, appear to be the better choices to reduce stroke risk, according to Graeme Hankey, MD, of Royal Perth Hospital in Australia.

Hankey reviewed the literature on various dietary and nutritional factors on the risk of stroke, and reported other findings, including

  • Supplementation with beta-carotene will not prevent stroke and may, in fact, increase the risk of cardiovascular death and death from all causes
  • The antioxidants vitamins C and E do not prevent stroke, and vitamin E may increase the risk of death
  • Calcium supplementation may increase the risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Treating a folate deficiency may lower stroke risk
  • A vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of stroke, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease
  • High intake of salt (about 5 grams daily) may increase risk of stroke by 23 percent and also raises risk of heart disease
  • Increased potassium intake reduces risk of stroke. In a recent meta-analysis published in Stroke, the investigators reported that for every 1,000-mg per day increase in potassium, the risk of stroke declined by 11 percent, a benefit that is likely related to the mineral’s ability to lower blood pressure
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seafood reduce the risk of death and heart-related events, and omega-3 from plants can lower stroke risk
  • High fiber intake appears to lower risk factors associated with stroke, such as cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Consuming greater amounts of fish and fruit were associated with a lower risk of stroke in the major stroke risk trial, INTERSTROKE
  • Cocoa may protect against stroke because of its anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive properties
  • Malnutrition during childhood is associated with an increased risk of stroke in later life
  • Malnutrition during the first year of a woman’s life may result in a greater risk of stroke in her children

Hankey noted that “the overall quality of an individual’s diet and balance between energy intake and expenditure seem to be more important determinants of stroke risk than individual nutrients and foods.” Given the vast number of stroke studies and the diversity of their study populations and methods, he called for more research to better identify the association between nutrition and stroke risk.
Hankey GJ. The Lancet Neurology 2012 Jan; 11(1): 66-81
Larsson SC et al. Stroke 2011 Oct; 42(10): 2746-50