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Oranges Are Women’s Best Friend for Stroke Prevention

Oranges may reduce stroke risk

Diamonds may sparkle and look good, but for better health and stroke prevention, women’s best friend may be oranges, according to the authors of a new study in Stroke. Citrus fruits, especially oranges and grapefruit, contain a type of flavonoid also found in dark chocolate that reduces the risk of stroke.

Oranges shine for stroke prevention

The steady stream of results from nutritional studies tends to have one thing in common: they involve recommendations to eat specific whole, natural foods to help reduce the risk of developing certain diseases or symptoms.

This latest study, conducted by investigators at Norwich Medical School of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, is no exception, and the findings are not surprising given what scientists have uncovered thus far about the value of flavonoids. But the information is important for women, who suffer stroke more often than men.

In fact, 425,000 women have a stroke each year, which is about 55,000 more than men. Women may also experience symptoms of stroke that differ from those of men (see below, “Stroke symptoms in women”).

In this new study, the researchers set out to identify which foods that contain different types of flavonoids have an impact on the risk of stroke. A stroke is also known as a cerebrovascular event because blood flow to part of the brain (“cerebro”) is stopped by a blockage or an embolism (ischemic stroke), or there is bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

The data for the study came from the Nurse’s Health Study, which was initiated in 1976. Investigators under the guidance of Dr. Aedin Cassidy, professor of nutrition at Norwich Medical School, evaluated 14 years of follow-up data from 69,622 women who had reported their dietary intake every four years.

Cassidy and his team were most interested in the amount of fruits and vegetables the women had consumed and any links between the different types of flavonoids and the risk of stroke.

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During the follow-up, there were 1,803 strokes confirmed. Analysis of the dietary information revealed that women who had the highest intake of flavonones from citrus had a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke. Citrus fruits are rich sources of flavonones, especially oranges and grapefruit.

The most nutritious way to get those critical flavonones is by eating the whole fruit and not just the juice, because orange and grapefruit juices tend to have high amounts of sugar. Whole oranges and grapefruit also provide important fiber and pectin, which can reduce cholesterol.

Other dietary factors and stroke
Another new study, also in Stroke, involved a 26-year follow-up in women and 22-year follow-up in men and reported on the risk of stroke associated with protein intake by comparing 1 serving per day of red meat, poultry, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy. An elevated risk of stroke was associated with a higher intake of red meat whereas higher intakes of poultry, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy were associated with a lower risk.

Yet one more study in Stroke reported on the impact of total antioxidant capacity (TAC; all antioxidants and the synergistic actions between them) and stroke incidence. The Swedish researchers found that the highest dietary TAC is associated with a lower risk of total stroke among women without cardiovascular disease and a lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke among women who have a history of cardiovascular problems.

Another recent Swedish study found that more potassium in the diet may reduce stroke risk. And if you think taking supplements is the way to cut your risk of stroke, a recent study found that eating a healthy diet, and not popping supplements, is the best way to lower your risk.

Stroke symptoms in women
Symptoms of stroke for both men and women typically include the following:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Sudden difficulty walking
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Women, however, may have unique stroke symptoms that include the following:

  • Sudden limb, face, and/or chest pain
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden shortness of breath and/or palpitations
  • Sudden general weakness
  • Sudden hiccups

It is important for women to recognize the symptoms of stroke and to take steps to reduce their risk of this often debilitating and deadly event. This latest study from Norwich Medical School suggests that women who add oranges and grapefruit to their diet every day may reduce their risk of stroke.

Bernstein AM, Pan A et al. Dietary protein sources and the risk of stroke in men and women. Stroke 2012 Mar; 43(3): 637-44
Cassidy A, Rimm EB, O’Reilly EJ et al. Dietary flavonoids and risk of stroke in women. Stroke 2012 doi: 10.1161/​STROKEAHA.111.637835
National Stroke Association
Rautiainen S, Larsson S, Virtamo J, Wolk A. Total antioxidant capacity of diet and the risk of stroke: a population-based prospective cohort of women. Stroke 2012 Feb; 43(2): 335-40
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