Best Foods to Reduce Stroke Risk

Best Foods to Reduce Stroke Risk
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What are the protective components of dietary patterns and foods associated with lower risk of cerebrovascular disease, or stroke?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Stroke remains one of the most devastating of all neurological diseases, killing about five million people a year worldwide, and is “the leading cause of permanent disability” in the United States. But, the good news is that about 80% of stroke risk may be due to basic lifestyle factors: primarily, improving your diet, stopping smoking, and getting regular exercise.

The best way to stop smoking, evidently, is to have a heart attack. If you die, you automatically stop smoking—unless you’re incinerated, I guess. And, if you live, repeated “strong advice” from your doctor may persuade up to two-thirds to quit: “Never smoke again in any form as long as you live.” Yes, it’s very addictive. “Yes, [it’s] very difficult. It doesn’t matter; it has to be done. If you are walking along the lakeshore and one of your grandchildren is drowning, [it’s not a matter of] will power; it just has to be done.” It’s like a healthy diet. Some things just have to be done—”getting up at night to feed a baby” can be difficult, too. But, it’s not a matter of willpower; some things in life just have to be done.

For stroke prevention, that means a more plant-based diet, like a traditional Mediterranean diet centered around “whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, and nuts.” A vegetarian or vegan diet may also work, but must be accompanied by a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12—meaning B12-fortified foods or supplements. “Unfortunately, recommending taking B12 supplements may meet opposition among vegetarians, because misconceptions regarding this nutrient are prevalent. Many individuals still hold on to the old myth that deficiency of this vitamin is rare and occurs only in a small proportion of vegans. Future studies with vegetarians should focus on identifying ways of convincing vegetarians to routinely take vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent a deficiency.” The research is clear on that. Now, we just need research on how we can convince vegetarians to actually take their B12 to prevent a deficiency.

What is it about plant-based diets? Previously, I talked about the role of fiber—potentially about a 1% drop in risk for every one gram of fiber per day. Or, maybe even a tad more: a 12% drop associated with every extra ten grams a day. In fact, fiber from, like, whole grains is associated with not only lower chance of dying from heart attack and stroke, but also cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, and lower risk of dying even from infections or other causes. In other words, lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes put together.

Why? Perhaps because of “the anti-inflammatory effects of…fiber,” which could explain how it could help across the board. Or, maybe they’re eating fewer pro-inflammatory foods. Those who eat more whole plant foods, where fiber is found, may be eating less processed and animal foods. In fact, the study immediately preceding this one, this meta-analysis of fiber, was a meta-analysis on meat. They looked at red meat and processed meat, and found about a 10% increased risk of stroke associated with each three-and-a-half-ounce daily portion. So, that’s about the size of a deck of cards, or about 10% increased risk for every half-deck of processed meat.

Perhaps, it’s because of the heme iron (the blood and muscle iron in meat), perhaps because of “its pro-oxidative properties”—whereas, no association was found between nonheme iron and stroke (the type of iron that predominates in plants). Or, perhaps, because of some of the toxic pollutants, like PCBs, that can build up in animal fats. We’ve known that, like, living next to a toxic waste dump might increase stroke risk. But, only recently have we realized that dietary exposure, even at so-called safe levels, may increase stroke risk. As much as eight or nine times the odds of stroke for those with the highest levels of these pollutants in their bloodstream.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Neil Conway via flickr. Image has been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Stroke remains one of the most devastating of all neurological diseases, killing about five million people a year worldwide, and is “the leading cause of permanent disability” in the United States. But, the good news is that about 80% of stroke risk may be due to basic lifestyle factors: primarily, improving your diet, stopping smoking, and getting regular exercise.

The best way to stop smoking, evidently, is to have a heart attack. If you die, you automatically stop smoking—unless you’re incinerated, I guess. And, if you live, repeated “strong advice” from your doctor may persuade up to two-thirds to quit: “Never smoke again in any form as long as you live.” Yes, it’s very addictive. “Yes, [it’s] very difficult. It doesn’t matter; it has to be done. If you are walking along the lakeshore and one of your grandchildren is drowning, [it’s not a matter of] will power; it just has to be done.” It’s like a healthy diet. Some things just have to be done—”getting up at night to feed a baby” can be difficult, too. But, it’s not a matter of willpower; some things in life just have to be done.

For stroke prevention, that means a more plant-based diet, like a traditional Mediterranean diet centered around “whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, and nuts.” A vegetarian or vegan diet may also work, but must be accompanied by a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12—meaning B12-fortified foods or supplements. “Unfortunately, recommending taking B12 supplements may meet opposition among vegetarians, because misconceptions regarding this nutrient are prevalent. Many individuals still hold on to the old myth that deficiency of this vitamin is rare and occurs only in a small proportion of vegans. Future studies with vegetarians should focus on identifying ways of convincing vegetarians to routinely take vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent a deficiency.” The research is clear on that. Now, we just need research on how we can convince vegetarians to actually take their B12 to prevent a deficiency.

What is it about plant-based diets? Previously, I talked about the role of fiber—potentially about a 1% drop in risk for every one gram of fiber per day. Or, maybe even a tad more: a 12% drop associated with every extra ten grams a day. In fact, fiber from, like, whole grains is associated with not only lower chance of dying from heart attack and stroke, but also cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, and lower risk of dying even from infections or other causes. In other words, lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes put together.

Why? Perhaps because of “the anti-inflammatory effects of…fiber,” which could explain how it could help across the board. Or, maybe they’re eating fewer pro-inflammatory foods. Those who eat more whole plant foods, where fiber is found, may be eating less processed and animal foods. In fact, the study immediately preceding this one, this meta-analysis of fiber, was a meta-analysis on meat. They looked at red meat and processed meat, and found about a 10% increased risk of stroke associated with each three-and-a-half-ounce daily portion. So, that’s about the size of a deck of cards, or about 10% increased risk for every half-deck of processed meat.

Perhaps, it’s because of the heme iron (the blood and muscle iron in meat), perhaps because of “its pro-oxidative properties”—whereas, no association was found between nonheme iron and stroke (the type of iron that predominates in plants). Or, perhaps, because of some of the toxic pollutants, like PCBs, that can build up in animal fats. We’ve known that, like, living next to a toxic waste dump might increase stroke risk. But, only recently have we realized that dietary exposure, even at so-called safe levels, may increase stroke risk. As much as eight or nine times the odds of stroke for those with the highest levels of these pollutants in their bloodstream.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Neil Conway via flickr. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

I love the sentiment that some things just have to be done. After all, what we regularly eat every day is, indeed, a matter of life and death.

For more on how to reduce stroke risk with diet, see:

What does vitamin B12 have to do with stroke? Watch my video Vitamin B12 Necessary for Arterial Health to find out.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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