Mediterranean Diet and Stroke Protection
Each year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke and approximately 140,000 die from that stroke according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you assume it’s only a problem for senior citizens in their seventies and eighties, you would be wrong. In fact, the populations who have seen the largest increases in the incidence of stroke in recent years are much younger—even children and young adults. The good news, however, is that new research suggests there is an easy way to help protect ourselves from stroke, and all it takes is some dietary changes.
The study, which took place at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of stroke, particularly in women.1 These results are based on an investigation that included 23,232 men and women who ranged in age from 40 to 77. All of the subjects were asked to keep seven-day food diaries in which they recorded everything they ate.
The researchers assessed each diary for how closely the participant stuck to a Mediterranean diet, which meant meals heavy on foods such as fish, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. They then compared this information with the medical records of each volunteer over the 17 years they were tracked, specifically to look for occurrences of stroke.
According to the data, those who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a 17 percent lower risk of having a stroke. But interestingly, when the investigators considered the outcomes based on gender, it is women who appear to benefit more significantly. The female subjects were 22 percent less likely to experience a stroke when they adhered to the Mediterranean diet, yet their male peers had only a six percent reduction in risk. What’s more, women with few risk factors for stroke had little change in their stroke risk, but women who were at high risk showed by far the greatest drop in their chance of having a stroke. This suggests that dietary factors likely have a substantial impact on stroke in those who may be at greatest risk.
The study does have a major shortcoming that is worth noting. While the number of subjects recruited was sizable, they were almost exclusively white, which limits our ability to determine the effects of a Mediterranean diet across a diverse population. But that being said, the research is likely more accurate than many others focused on dietary effects since it is based on daily reporting of what a participant is eating, rather than relying on each person’s memory of what they had consumed days earlier.
These findings add to an already impressive body of evidence in favor of a Mediterranean diet’s health benefits. Earlier studies have found that this diet is associated with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, uterine cancer, and macular degeneration. These benefits, though, are not surprising since the Mediterranean diet has a strong emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and nuts, all of which contain vital nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. Another important aspect is the regular consumption of fish, which can provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids—if you choose the right types (such as salmon, arctic char, sardines, and mackerel).
What can get a little confusing are the variations of the Mediterranean diet that are circulating. How do you discern the differences and figure out which one might be the most beneficial to you? A good place to start is a trusted source of diet and health information like Jon Barron.
He has offered his opinion on the best version of the Mediterranean diet, and that is one that includes high consumption of non-starchy vegetables and greens; moderate to high consumption of wild caught fish; moderate consumption of organic, free-range chicken or turkey; low to moderate consumption of organic, free-range meat and meat products (if desired); moderate consumption of nuts and seeds; moderate consumption of chlorella, spirulina, and blue-green algae; moderate consumption of fruit; moderate consumption of certain oils and fats; and moderate consumption of organic, certified-humane eggs. For more information on why Jon has chosen this version and which foods he suggests to limit or avoid consuming, read his informative article “Doctors Don’t Know Diets.”
- 1. Paterson, Katherine E.; et al. "Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Incident Stroke in a Population With Varying Cardiovascular Disease Risk Profiles." Stroke. 20 September 2018. Accessed 23 September 2018. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.117.020258.