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Antioxidant-rich foods may help reduce risk of stroke in women, according to a new study

Dec. 1, 2011

By Maria Serraino

Consumption of antioxidant-rich foods may reduce the risk of stroke in women, according to a recent study in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

According to background research in the study, eating fruits and vegetables has been associated with health benefits because of the vitamins, carotenoids and antioxidant properties that prevent oxidative stress and inflammation, and reduce blood clotting and blood pressure.

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals (which damage our body’s cells) and the body’s ability to neutralize them. This imbalance can lead to inflammation, and can damage and stiffen blood vessels. Antioxidants help prevent oxidative stress by neutralizing or (cleaning up) our body from the free radicals that can harm our cells.  

The researchers aimed to determine if antioxidant-rich foods could help reduce stroke risk among women who have a history of heart disease and those who do not.  

The study included a total of 36,715 Swedish women ages 49 to 83. There were 31,035 participants who had no history of heart disease or history of stroke and 5,680 women who did have a history of heart disease. Researchers tracked the heart disease-free women for an average of 11 years and the women with heart disease for about nine years.

The researchers used a food-frequency questionnaire to determine the participants’ total antioxidant capacity (TAC), which measures the free radical-reducing capacity of all antioxidants in the diet. They categorized women according to their TAC levels and created five groups of women without a history of heart disease and four groups of women (because of the smaller sample size) who did have a history of heart disease.

The study found that a higher TAC level, indicating higher consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, was associated with lower stoke rates in women without history of heart disease. Within this group, those with the highest levels of dietary TAC had a 17 per cent lower total risk of stroke, compared to those with the lowest levels of TAC. For all the women in this group, fruits and vegetables contributed to a majority of TAC levels, which also included consumption of whole grains, tea and chocolate.

Women with a history of heart disease and who fell into the highest three groups of dietary TAC levels had a 46 per cent to 57 per cent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared with those in the lowest level. Among the hemorrhagic stroke cases, compared with women in the highest TAC quartile, those in the lowest were more likely to have a history of stroke.

During followup, the researchers identified 1,322 strokes among the women with no history of heart disease and 1,007 stroke cases among the women with a history of heart disease.

The researchers suggest that TAC levels may be of high importance for the prevention of stroke among women without history of heart disease, and of hemorrhagic stroke among women with history of heart disease. They suggest that further studies should examine the link between dietary TAC and stroke risk in men, across cultures and for different stroke subtypes.

The study appears in the February 2012 issue of Stroke.


Read more on healthy eating:

Food for thought: strategies for mindful eating

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital