Eating Away at Stroke Risk

Antioxidant diet helps reduce risk of stroke among women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women may be able to lower their risk of stroke just by changing what they eat -- even if they have a history of heart disease. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are high in antioxidants, appear to offer positive heart benefits.

In a recent study, total antioxidant capacity was related to a reduced stroke risk in women without cardiovascular disease, but even those who had suffered from heart disease had a reduced stroke risk of 17 percent.

"Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day."

Susanne Rautiainen, the study’s author and a Ph.D. candidate at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said that eating antioxidant-rich foods reduces the risk of stroke by inhibiting stress and inflammation. She said this suggests that individuals should eat more fruits and vegetables to contribute to higher total antioxidant capacity.

Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body’s ability to neutralize them. It can lead to inflammation, blood vessel damage and stiffening.

Certain antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids and flavonoids are able to inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation by scavenging the free radicals. Antioxidants, especially flavonoids, help improve the function of the inner lining of blood vessels, and reduce blood clotting, blood pressure and inflammation.

During the study researchers identified 31,035 women without heart disease and 5,690 with cardiovascular disease using the Swedish Mammography Cohort. The women were between the ages of 49 and 83.

The women without heart disease were tracked for an average of 11.5 years, while the other group was followed for an average of 9.6 years, beginning in September 1997 and ending at the date of their first stroke or December 2009, whichever came first.

Investigators identified 1,322 strokes among cardiovascular disease-free women and 1,007 strokes among those that had suffered from heart disease using the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry.

Participants also filled out a food frequency questionnaire. Researchers then used a standard database to determine participants’ total antioxidant capacity, which includes the free radical reducing capacity of all antioxidants in the diet and considers synergistic effects between substances. The women were divided into groups based on antioxidant capacity -- five for women without heart disease and four for the other group.

Women without heart disease who were in one of the top three groups were 46 percent to 57 percent less likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke as compared to those in the two lower groups.

In women without a history of heart disease with the highest total antioxidant capacities, fruits and vegetables accounted for half of that capacity. Other contributors included whole grains at 18 percent, tea at 16 percent and chocolate at 5 percent. Further studies will be needed to confirm the link.

The study was recently published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 2, 2011
Last Updated:
December 3, 2011