Stroke: Vegetarian diet may slash risk by 74% – key foods to emphasise for ‘major impact’

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Strokes – characterised by sudden confusion and weakness – cause brain functions to falter, and there are two ways this can happen. Ischemic strokes typically occur when a clot obstructs blood supply to the organ. More rarely, however, a vessel can burst, causing internal bleeding in the brain, which is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. According to one study, a vegetarian diet could significantly lower the risk of both types of brain attack.

The 2020 study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, looked at two groups of people from Buddhist communities in Taiwan, a region where the vegetarian diet is widely adopted.

Around 30 percent of the study’s subjects in both groups were vegetarians – which was defined as individuals who do not eat meat or fish.

Study author Chin-Lon Lin, said: “Stroke is the second most common cause of death worldwide and a leading cause of disability.

“Stroke can also contribute to dementia. If we could reduce the number of strokes by people making changes to their diets, that would have a major impact on overall public health.”

READ MORE: Stroke: The food ‘significantly associated’ with lower risk – average intake is too low

Researchers followed the first group of 5,050 people for around six years, while the second group of 8,302 people was followed for approximately nine years.

A total of 54 strokes were recorded among the participants in the first group.

This number was broken down into three ischemic strokes among 1,424 vegetarians, and 28 ischemic strokes among 3,636 non-vegetarians.

After adjusting for all underlying factors, researchers established that vegetarians in this group had a 74 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke compared to their non-vegetarian counterparts.

The vegetarians tended to emphasise more nuts and vegetables in their diet and consumed less dairy than non-vegetarians.

In the second group, a total of 121 strokes were recorded, which included both ischemic and haemorrhagic stroke.

This time, 24 strokes occurred among 2,719 vegetarians, compared to 97 among 5,582 non-vegetarians.

After adjusting for other factors, researchers found vegetarians in this group had a 48 percent lower risk of overall stroke than their non-vegetarian counterparts.

The study author noted: “Overall, our study found that a vegetarian diet was beneficial and reduced the risk of ischemic stroke even after adjusting for known risk factors like blood pressure, blood glucose levels and fats in the blood.

“This could mean that perhaps there is some other protective mechanism that may protect those who eat a vegetarian diet from a stroke.”

One limitation of the study is that the participants studied did not drink or smoke, unlike the general population.

Who’s at risk of stroke

There are numerous offenders linked to stroke risk, many of which are lifestyle factors.

These factors generally include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

Heavy drinking, smoking are two habits known to have a profound impact on the aforementioned conditions, so all should be avoided.

Dietary habits strongly associated with the condition include high saturated fat and high salt intake, so intake of both foods should be limited too.

Vegetables known to help manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol tend to contain high amounts of potassium – such as bananas, tomatoes, prunes, melons and soybeans – and magnesium, found in spinach.

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