If you have a family history of strokes or a close family member has had a stroke at an early age, you may be at higher risk of developing one yourself. Although genetics is a factor, experts say that 80% of strokes are preventable through lifestyle. Some ways you can lower your risk are to avoid smoking cigarettes, limit the amount of alcohol you drink, stay a healthy body weight, control your blood pressure and blood sugar, and stay physically active. What you eat matters too. Here are five surprising foods that science suggests may lower the risk of stroke.
You might think drinking coffee would increase the risk of stroke since it can increase your heart rate and cause a transient rise in blood pressure. However, a study of almost 35,000 middle-aged women in Sweden found that those who drank more than one cup per day had a 25% lower risk of developing a stroke. The reason? One theory is that antioxidant compounds in coffee reduce blood vessel inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of a blood clot forming in a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain. Coffee has a number of bioactive compounds with antioxidant activity including chlorogenic acid, diterpenes, caffeine, melanoidins, and trigonelline. However, if you have hypertension, talk to your physician before drinking more than 2 cups per day.
Who doesn’t enjoy a square or two of dark chocolate? Despite its lusciousness, dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidant compounds called flavonoids. Studies show these compounds lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. An observational study also found that people who ate a small dark chocolate bar each day had a 23% lower risk of stroke.
Could dark chocolate also soften the severity of stroke? An interesting mouse study carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that dark chocolate components may reduce brain damage caused by ischemic stroke, the most common type. Ischemic strokes occur when a clot reduces blood flow to a portion of the brain. The active ingredient that seems to protect against stroke is epicatechin in dark chocolate.
What’s Your favorite leafy green? A study found that consuming more leafy greens may lower the risk of stroke by up to 64%. Why leafy greens? They’re a rich source of potassium and magnesium. Potassium and magnesium play a key role in blood pressure control and high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for a stroke. The high fiber content of leafy greens may also be a factor. In fact, research links a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with a lower risk of stroke. If you don’t like leafy greens, eat other colorful fruits and vegetables.
Another type of green that belongs in your diet is green tea. Although not as well known as black tea in Western countries, green tea comes from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. However, black tea is fermented and fermentation removes some of its antioxidants. Green tea is rich in antioxidants called cathechins, which likely explains most of its health benefits. Catechins may lower the risk of stroke by reducing inflammation inside the walls of arteries that lead to the brain. Plus, there’s some evidence that drinking green tea reduces blood pressure and improves blood vessel function.
Is there evidence to support green tea’s anti-stroke benefits? A study in Korean men found drinking green tea was associated with a lower risk of stroke. Another study found that sipping four cups daily reduced stroke risk by 20%. Even people who drink only 2 or 3 cups daily reduce their risk by up to 14%. If possible, drink green tea without sugar or add a natural, no-calorie sweetener, like Stevia.
A study published in the journal Neurology found that men with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 55% less likely to develop a stroke relative to those with the least. Lycopene is an antioxidant that also has anti-inflammatory activity. The anti-inflammatory benefits of lycopene may reduce inflammation in the lining of arteries that can lead to a stroke.
Raw tomatoes aren’t the best source of lycopene, as the lycopene in raw tomatoes isn’t very bioavailable. However, heating or processing tomatoes vastly boosts the amount of lycopene your body can use. That’s why stewed tomatoes, ketchup, and marinara sauce are your best bet for increasing the lycopene content of your diet.
The Bottom Line
No food will ensure you never have a stroke. However, eating a healthy diet of mostly whole foods and staying physically active helps. Adding some of these foods to your diet may also give you an edge. Enjoy the health benefits these foods offer. They’re also good for your heart and blood vessels.
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