Strokes are an underrated problem in the United States. Most people are unaware of the dangers associated with getting a stroke such as paralysis, loss of vocal facilities, brain damage and in some cases death. So you must be wondering, what can you do to lower your risk of having a stroke?

Reuters reports on a new study linking protein to stroke prevention.

Apparently eating more protein can help drastically lower your risk of getting a stroke. So what foods should you eat in furtherance of that goal? When the study says ‘protein’ it does not mean you should have a steak or fried chicken every night. Experts are emphasizing the importance of eating lean chicken, fish, eggs, milk and other healthy foods that are high in protein.

These new studies show that people whose diets are high in protein have a twenty percent less chance of having a stroke in their lifetime. National statistics state that over 800,000 Americans have a stroke every year, and apparently these are preventable.

Reuters explains how the new study was conducted, “The new review includes seven studies, each of which followed a group of adults for at least 10 years. Participants either periodically filled out diet questionnaires or were asked to recall everything they had eaten over the past 24 hours in order to gauge their protein intake, and researchers recorded which of them had a stroke during the follow-up period. The studies included a combined total of about 255,000 people. Most considered any type of stroke, but two focused on fatal strokes.”

The results were encouraging.

“Six of the studies found that as protein intake increased, stroke risk decreased. An extra 20 grams of protein per day was linked to a 26 percent lower stroke risk,” according to Reuters. This is not the only advantage to eating protein. Other benefits of eating protein include: lowering blood pressure, raising bone strength/density and raising Vitamin D levels.

Can any type of protein consumption help? Reuters addresses that question, “Animal protein was linked to a greater reduction in stroke risk than other sources of protein in the new report. But another recent analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that vegetarian diets are associated with lower blood pressure than diets that include meat. In the current analysis, there wasn’t a big range in plant protein intake - those who ate the most ate only 16 more grams per day than those who ate the least - compared to animal protein, where the daily range was 35 grams. Since there wasn’t a big range in plant protein consumption, it was harder to find an association with stroke. Among different protein sources, fish consumption has been associated with decreased risk of stroke, whereas red meat consumption has been associated with increased stroke risk.” Overall researchers found that animal protein helped reduce stroke risk twice as much as plant protein.

Red meat is said to increase the risk of stroke, because it is filled with saturated fat and cholesterol. Instead experts are urging people to consume more fish for stroke prevention because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and a couple of other nutritional components that help protect against strokes. Dr. Tamayo, a stroke neurologist, told Reuters, “As stroke neurologists we aim to change as much as possible all those factors that can potentially be modified, like cholesterol and hypertension, among others and lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and diet. It is important that people understand how much diet can influence the advent of multiple diseases. Global strategies to prevent stroke should start early in life with an adequate diet education for all people regardless of their risk of stroke.”

Fox news also commented on the study offering a different take. They were more skeptical than Reuters about the supposed benefits of protein consumption reducing stroke risk. Fox health finds that there could be other reasons as well for the protein-stroke correlation. Dr. Liu, an expert in the field told Fox, “Dietary protein intake tends to be associated with other nutrients that may prevent stroke, such as potassium, magnesium and dietary fiber.” But Fox eventually concluded that although other factors should also be considered, the study still is helpful in offering ways to further stroke prevention.

Most health officials are endorsing the studies because the findings show a direct correlation between protein consumption and stroke prevention.

CBS offers favorable statistics, provided by the new study, “For every additional twenty grams per day of protein that people ate, their risk of stroke decreased by twenty six percent, the researchers found. If everyone's protein intake were at this level, that would translate to more than 1.4 million fewer deaths from stroke each year worldwide, plus a decreased level of disability from stroke.”

All experts are stressing the fact that people should not use the study as an excuse to eat more red meat. Many people mistake steak for having the same effect that fish would have but that is not so. Steak and other red meats actually have the counter-effect that fish and lean meats have. These foods are highly saturated, fatty and high in cholesterol thus they raise blood pressure levels, and raised blood pressure levels can in turn cause stroke in the body. As stated earlier, the study finds lean meat and fish to be the helpful sources. Dr. Sacco (chair of the neurology department at the University of Miami) told CBS, “I don't think this study means to the public you should run out and start eating burgers and red meat. Focusing on lean protein consumption and/or even vegetable protein is important.”

Dr. Horn from Northwestern University tried to explain the difference between animal protein and plant protein and how each affects the body. These differences account for what protein prevents stroke and why. She told CBS, “Animal proteins are considered ‘complete’ because they contain all the amino acids needed by humans, while most sources of vegetable protein are incomplete, she said. Vegetarians often need to include a wide variety of vegetable protein sources in their diet to get all the amino acids they need. One could say that having animal protein simply means you're getting a better quality diet because all the amino acids are present.” And basically the more amino acids present in your food, the better because they help protect against strokes.

How does protein function in the body to reduce stroke? “Doctors aren't sure exactly why protein decreases stroke risk. The nutrient appears to help protect against hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for stroke,” according to CBS. The studies also accounted for other factors that could affect the cause of strokes such as high cholesterol, genetic predisposition, stroke and high blood pressure. What other factors or foods do we consume that can cause an increase in the risk of strokes? Basically the list of foods that are bad for you is way too long. So it is better to go by a general rule of thumb. Foods that can cause strokes (and other problems as well for that matter) include those that are high in sugar, saturated fat and salt.

For those who have difficulty putting together a healthy diet or who want to change their food consumption & lifestyle in general, experts are endorsing the popular Mediterranean diet. Many health magazines are raving about it. This diet would entail daily consumption of foods such as eggs, fish, spinach, feta cheese, olive oil, and whole grains. And not only does this diet help to lower the risk of stroke but it also increases bone health, lowers blood pressure, it is low calorie and helps decrease cholesterol.







Gerry Oginski
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