A Mediterranean Diet Can Lower Stroke Risk – Especially in Women

A Mediterranean Diet Can Lower Stroke Risk – Especially in Women
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A Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world, can lower the risk of stroke, especially in women, according to a new study. [1]

Men didn’t reap the same benefits from this widely-accepted healthy diet, which emphasizes consumption of fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, and beans, and limits red meat and dairy products.

Lead researcher Dr. Phyo Myint, a clinical chair of medicine at the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine in Scotland, said:

“Simple changes in dietary habits may bring a substantial benefit regarding reducing stroke, which remains one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.”

But the study couldn’t determine if there is a causal relationship between a Mediterranean diet and lower stroke risk. Furthermore, the researchers can’t pinpoint why the cardiovascular health of women, but not men, benefited from a Mediterranean diet.

According to Myint, “it is widely acknowledged that men and women are very different with regard to normal physiology.”

Women face unique stroke risks that men never have to worry about, including oral contraceptive use and hormone replacement therapy. Moreover, pregnant women who develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes face a higher risk of stroke.

Myint said:

“It may be that certain components in the Mediterranean diet may influence risk of stroke in women more than men.”

For example, a study published in 2015 showed that those who followed the notoriously-healthy diet with an additional 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil were 62% less likely to develop malignant breast cancer, compared with those who consumed the study’s control diet.

In 2013, a study involving a cohort comprised of 57% women revealed that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events, including stroke.

What this Recent Study Has to Say

For the new study, researchers collected data on more than 23,000 men women between the ages of 40 and 77, who participated in a large cancer study. The subjects were followed for 17 years.

During the 17-years of follow-up, 2,009 strokes occurred. [2]

The team controlled for age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking, vascular diseases, blood pressure, and other variables that contribute to stroke risk.

Overall, those who followed a Mediterranean diet reduced their stroke risk by 17%. But when the results were broken down by sex, Myint and his colleagues found that women cut their stroke risk by 22%, while men only saw a 6% decline. [1]

The scientists said there is a chance that the risk was so small among men that it might have been a “chance” finding. But it should be noted that the women in the study adhered to a Mediterranean diet more closely than men, according to the team. [1] [2]

When it came to participants who had a high risk of stroke, consuming a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk by 13%. However, the researchers found that the association was primarily due to a 20% reduction in risk among women. [1]

There is evidence to suggest that a Mediterranean diet beats statin drugs for lowering cholesterol in people with heart disease. What’s more, research shows that the dietary lifestyle coupled with low carbs reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for stroke.

The authors concluded:

“We found that the overall Mediterranean-style diet was more strongly protective for risk of stroke than the individual types of foods that form this type of healthy eating style. The benefits of eating a Mediterranean-style diet resulted from the combined effects of following a diet high in fish, fruits, vegetables, cereal foods, and potatoes, and lower in meat and dairy foods.”

The study is published in the journal Stroke.


[1] HealthDay

[2] MedPage Today