Diet can be an instrumental factor in preventing or hastening the onset of a stroke.
Alice Mackintosh, nutritionist at The Food Doctor said: "Though genetic predisposition plays a part in the development of cardiovascular issues, it has been hypothesized that most cases of stroke can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle, thereby reducing risks of further compromising heart health. Factors that can make one more susceptible to strokes include: smoking, stress, low physical activity, a high saturated fat diet, high cholesterol levels, uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure."
What healthy diet changes can you make in 2014, and what should you look at avoiding? We asked three experts for their advice.
You may ask what this has to do with your heart, but the liver is where cholesterol is actually made. Nutritionist Karen Poole says this includes onion, garlic, cabbage, fennel, broccoli, watercress, celery, radish, rocket, chicory, garlic, artichoke, and spinach into your weekly holiday diet.
"The liver initially makes cholesterol and then breaks it down when it has performed its tasks and a healthy liver will function more efficiently and is therefore, essential for effective overall blood cholesterol regulation. The liver will no doubt take a bashing over the festive season so make sure to give it some TLC."
Cut out pastries and fatty meats
Recently findings have revealed that while all saturated fats are not evil when it comes to heart disease and strokes, trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. This - sad to say - will include all the things we like. Yvonne McMeel, resident nutritionist at Urban Retreat says these are "heavily processed food; meat pies, sausages and fatty cuts of meat, lard, cream, hard cheese, cakes and biscuits."
"Cholesterol balancing omega 3 fats has been shown to significantly reduce the risks of strokes," says Alice. "In particular, omega-3 fatty acids which can be obtained from fatty fish (e.g. salmon, herring and mackerel), walnuts, hempseed and even green leafy veg have stroke protective properties. by inducing vasodilation of blood vessels, they reduce the risk of blood clots whilst also decreasing platelet deposition in the arteries and veins, leading to a reduction of plaque build-up that can lead to a rise in blood pressure."
B12, folic acid and B2
"High levels of homocysteine, a byproduct of regular protein metabolism produced daily by everyone, is becoming widely recognised as an indicator for potential stroke and CVD issues," advises Karen.
"The good news is by increasing your intake of B12 ,B2 and folic acid you can affect your homocysteine levels and reduce the risk of cholesterol oxidisation (cholesterol is most dangerous when it is oxidised ) and subsequent plaque formation. Almonds, avocado, eggs, barley, wholegrains, broccoli, herring, salmon, sardines, beans, yeast, soy beans, green leafy vegetables, sprouts, endive and lentils.
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A Swedish study in the journal Neurology showed that eating chocolate is linked with a lower risk of stroke in men. The study, which included 37,103 men, showed that men who ate the most chocolate in the 10-year study had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who didn't report eating any chocolate during that time period.
Eating lots of whole grains could help to lower risk of ischemic stroke for women, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings showed that women who ate the most whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating two or three whole grain bread slices every day) had a 30 to 40 percent lower stroke risk, compared with women who ate the fewest whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating just a half-slice of whole grain bread every day), according to ABC News.
An antioxidant found in citrus fruits could help to lower risk of stroke in women, according to a study of 70,000 women earlier this year in the journal Stroke. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who consumed the most flavonoids over a 14-year period had a 19 percent lower risk of stroke than the women who consumed the fewest flavonoids during that time period.
While antioxidants aren't exactly a food on their own, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in them are linked with a lower stroke risk for women. Research published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women with no heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, and women with a heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 57 percent decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, speculated that the protection comes from antioxidants' ability to stop inflammation and oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can also help to reduce blood clots and lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, according to the American Heart Association.
Consuming low-fat dairy could help to lower the risk of stroke, according to a Stroke study. The research showed that the adults who consumed the most low-fat dairy over a 10-year period had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who consumed the least low-fat dairy over the time period. "It is possible that vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods may explain, in part, the observed lowered risk of stroke in this study because of its potential effect on blood pressure," study researcher Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, said in a statement.
Foods loaded with magnesium -- like beans, nuts leafy greens and whole grains -- are linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, WebMD Reported. The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed specifically that for each 100 milligrams of magnesium consumed each day, ischemic stroke risk went down by 9 percent.
Making sure to eat some fish every week could help to lower risk of stroke, according to a review of studies published in the journal Stroke. Reuters reported on the study, which showed that eating fish several times a week was linked with a lower risk of stroke, compared with non-fish eaters. "I think overall, fish does provide a beneficial package of nutrients, in particular the omega-3s, that could explain this lower risk," Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose research was part of the Stroke analysis, told Reuters.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
We already know fresh fruit and veg is good for us, but when it comes to stroke prevention, Yvonne reveals it has a crucial role. "Vegetables are a good source of potassium which is the natural antagonist of sodium; it will help reduce blood pressure."
Both are packed with antioxidants which support the body's healing process. When it doubt, go for fruit and vegetables with the darkest colours. Alice adds: "Super foods such as goji berries, hempseed and acai can also protect against plaque build-up in arteries and should be consumed with regularity."
These play a key role in lowering cholesterol. "Beta glucans, present in oats, can help to lower cholesterol levels," says Karen, "as they bind to dietary fats and carry them out of the body before they can be digested and absorbed."
"Fresh garlic contains several compounds, the most important of which is allicin," says Yvonne. "This has been shown to protect against high blood pressure, infections, indigestion amongst other conditions. Several studies have shown that it can reduce harmful cholesterol by about 12 per cent, and inhibits new growth of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Garlic may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells and strengthen the immune system."
Do's And Don'ts Checklist
- DO take part in physical activity (30mins 5 days per week)
- DO eat foods rich in folate, such as beans and pulses, green leafy veg and eggs, magnesium and potassium
- DO build relaxation time into each day to reduce stress as cortisol release induces vasoconstriction (arteries contracting). Just 20 minutes per day could make a difference
- DO keep to a healthy weight especially around the middle as visceral fat can release substances that disrupt hormone regulation and may raise blood pressure
- DON'T continue to smoke
- DON'T drink too much (no more than 2 drinks per day)