5 Ways to Lower Stroke Risk

Every year, about 140,000 Americans die as a result of a stroke. Strokes are also the leading cause of serious long-term disability. You can reduce your risk by controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol, losing excess weight, not smoking and getting regular exercise. But diet matters, too. In addition to cutting down on salty foods, here are five other study-based steps that may help reduce the risk of stroke. These new studies add to the growing evidence that a plant-based diet—with some fish and a little alcohol—is not only good for your heart, but for your brain as well.

Eat More Citrus

Women who consumed the most citrus were less likely to have an ischemic (clot-related) stroke than women who consumed the least, according to data from the well-known Nurses’ Health Study, reported in the journal Stroke. The researchers attributed the benefit to compounds in citrus called flavanones, which may reduce inflammation and improve blood vessel function. Other substances in citrus, including potassium, may also play a role.

Eat More Apples and Pears, Too

This advice comes from a Dutch study, also published in the journal Stroke. People who ate the most white-fleshed produce (at least 6 ounces a day, excluding potatoes) had half the risk of stroke over 10 years, compared to those who ate the least. Apples and pears are rich in substances known as flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Other white fruits and vegetables, such as onions, mushrooms and cauliflower, may also be protective.

Get Enough Magnesium

A Swedish analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that for every 100-milligram daily increase in dietary magnesium, there was a 9 percent drop in stroke risk. (The recommended daily intake is 320 milligrams for women, 420 for men, and most people fall short.) Many studies have linked dietary magnesium to lower blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular risk, but those using supplements have had inconsistent results. The best sources are leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds and fish.

Drink a Little Alcohol (Not a Lot)

In another study in the journal Stroke that looked at women from the Nurses’ Health Study, light to moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink a day) was associated with a lower risk of all strokes. No benefit—and possibly increased stroke risk—was seen at higher amounts. Alcohol, in moderation, may help prevent blood clots and has a beneficial effect on cholesterol. But, as other studies have shown, high amounts can increase blood pressure and have other negative cardiovascular effects.

Limit Trans Fat

A study of the participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, published in the Annals of Neurology, found that those who consumed the most trans fats (averaging 6 grams a day) were nearly 40 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke than those who consumed the least (averaging 2 grams a day). Other fats and dietary cholesterol had no effect on stroke risk. This was true even after the researchers controlled for other dietary, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors. Trans fats have been removed from many (but hardly all) foods in recent years.

The article above was from UC Berkeley Wellness newsletter