Med Diet May Lower Stroke Risk in Women

A new study in the U.K. suggests the Mediterranean diet may be particularly protective of stroke in women over 40, regardless of whether they take hormone replacement therapy or have experienced menopause.

Oct. 5, 2018
By Mary West

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Fol­low­ing the nutri­tion-dense Mediter­ranean diet (Med­Diet) may lower stroke risk, espe­cially in women. One of the largest and longest-run­ning stud­ies on the sub­ject found the eat­ing plan was linked to a 22-per­cent lower inci­dence in women over age 40.

It is unclear why we found dif­fer­ences between women and men, but it could be that com­po­nents of the diet may influ­ence men dif­fer­ently than women.- Ailsa Welch, Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia

Accord­ing to the researchers, strokes cause 6.34 mil­lion deaths world­wide every year. How­ever, 90 per­cent of cases are pre­ventable with lifestyle mod­i­fi­ca­tions that include eat­ing a healthy diet. Instead of the pro­tec­tion com­ing from one indi­vid­ual food, it’s likely due to syn­er­gis­tic effects of com­po­nents in the entire diet, they said.

Key ele­ments of the Med­Diet con­sist of gen­er­ous amounts of fruits, veg­eta­bles, olive oil, beans, whole grains, nuts, fish and pota­toes. The eat­ing plan also involves a lower con­sump­tion of dairy prod­ucts, sugar and meat.

Sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Aberdeen, East Anglia and Cam­bridge worked together in the research. The par­tic­i­pants were 23,232 adults between the age of 40 and 77 who were enrolled in the EPIC-Nor­folk study. For 17 years, the research team mon­i­tored the indi­vid­u­als’ diets and com­pared the stroke risk of those who adhered closely to the Med­Diet with those who didn’t fol­low it as well.

See more: Arti­cles on the Mediter­ranean diet

Data showed the par­tic­i­pants who fol­lowed the Med­Diet the most closely expe­ri­enced a decreased onset of stroke. The reduc­tion was 22 per­cent in women, 17 per­cent in all adults and 6 per­cent in men. Researchers noted that the smaller ben­e­fit in men could be due to chance, so it wasn’t con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant.


It is unclear why we found dif­fer­ences between women and men, but it could be that com­po­nents of the diet may influ­ence men dif­fer­ently than women,” said Ailsa Welch, lead author from the Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia, United King­dom. We are also aware that dif­fer­ent sub-types of stroke may dif­fer between gen­ders. Our study was too small to test for this, but both pos­si­bil­i­ties deserve fur­ther study in the future.”

More­over, par­tic­i­pants at a high risk of a car­dio­vas­cu­lar event who fol­lowed the Med­Diet to any degree had a 13-per­cent reduc­tion in stroke risk. The advan­tage seemed to include adults at a low risk of a car­dio­vas­cu­lar event, although the pos­si­bil­ity that this was due to chance can’t be ruled out.

The researchers noted that while the find­ings were dri­ven by the appar­ent ben­e­fit in women, they have impli­ca­tions for stroke pre­ven­tion in both gen­ders. The study was pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Heart Association’s jour­nal Stroke.

In an inter­view with Olive Oil Times, bio­chemist Barry Sears, author of the Zone Diet book series, explained how the diet relates to the stroke risk pro­tec­tion.

Stroke pre­ven­tion is a con­se­quence of the reduc­tion of inflam­ma­tion that pro­duces clot for­ma­tion in the cere­bral cir­cu­la­tion, which causes ischemic stroke. It also is due to decreas­ing hyper­ten­sion that leads to a burst­ing of the cere­bral arter­ies sup­ply­ing cir­cu­la­tion to the brain, which causes hem­or­rhagic stroke,” he said.

A true Med­Diet is an anti-inflam­ma­tory diet that reduces clot for­ma­tion and low­ers blood pres­sure.”

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