RESULTS of recent research published online on Dec. 1, 2011 in the journal Stroke showed that women who consume higher amounts of foods that contain antioxidants have a lower risk of stroke than women who consume lesser amounts, even if they have a history of cardiovascular disease, says the February 2012 issue of the Weill-Cornell Medical College Women’s Health / advisor.

In the study, researchers who calculated the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) — a measure of the capacity a person’s total diet has to reduce free radicals in the body — of women’s diets, found that the women with the highest TACs had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than the women with the lowest TACs.

Free radicals are molecules your body produces when it breaks down food or is exposed to environmental toxins, such as radiation and tobacco smoke — when they bond to other molecules in the body, they can damage cells or DNA within cells.

Amy Gross, MPH, RD, CDN, a dietitian at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, explains, “Cell damage caused by free radicals is believed to play a role in some forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease; antioxidants in foods stop the harmful effects of free radicals.”

Antioxidants include Vitamins C and E, selenium, lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene (a form of Vitamin A), adds Gross.

Among the women with the highest TACs in the Stroke study, fruits and vegetables accounted for 50 percent of the antioxidant consumed, while whole grains accounted for 18 percent, tea for 16 percent and chocolate for five percent.

While nuts, seeds and spices are also good sources of antioxidants, “foods that have the most antioxidants per serving include berries (especially blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries), artichokes, walnuts, pecans, citrus fruits and ground cloves.”

Spinach, pinto beans, red potatoes, sweet potatoes and unsweetened baking chocolate are also high on the list of antioxidant-rich foods.

Although whole grains are not at the top of the antioxidant list, they do contain more antioxidants than processed grains, aside from providing other important nutrients, such as Vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid, as well as abundant fiber, which aids in the reduction of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, the health letter explains.

Getting antioxidants from foods rather than supplements is recommended.

“Nutrients in foods are much more complex, and interactions are more beneficial than what you get from supplements,” explains Matthew Fink, M.D., professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of the division of stroke and critical care neurology at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

He adds that vitamin studies have never shown supplements to be effective for stroke, except for folic acid, on which there are differing opinions.

Dr. Fink also advises eating fruits and vegetables rather than drinking juices made from them, as well as consuming a variety of colorful plant foods, while limiting your intake of animal products.

Gross also recommends reducing saturated fat in your diet by choosing low-fat dairy options, lean meats, poultry and fish, and avoiding creamy sauces and salad dressings.

Also, ask for sauces on the side in restaurants and avoid seasoning packets, such as taco seasoning.

Instead, use a variety of fresh or dried spices to add flavor to food.

She also advises choosing low-sodium varieties of canned foods and condiments, rinsing canned beans and vegetables thoroughly or opting for dried beans, since “excess sodium intake has been linked with a higher risk of stroke,” Gross points out.

In addition to the dietary recommendations mentioned above, there are other ways to reduce your stroke risk.

Dr. Fink believes that the biggest two factors for stroke are age and high blood pressure (hypertension) and “you may not be able to turn back the hands of time, but you can do something about hypertension — although many people don’t.”

“About 65 to 70 percent of people over age 60 have hypertension,” says Dr. Fink.

However, he says that 40 percent of individuals don’t know it and half of those who do know are not getting treatment for it — while there are plenty of medications that can lower blood pressure, individuals often don’t take them as prescribed or don’t take them at all for various reasons, such as wishful thinking that lifestyle changes alone can lower the blood pressure, not feeling too concerned about a diagnosis of mild hypertension and not fulfilling recommended follow-up visits to the doctor.

Other risk factors for stroke include atrial fibrillation, which raises stroke risk by a factor of five; cigarette smoking, which confers a three-fold higher risk; and a sedentary lifestyle — “If you had to pick one thing to do to protect yourself from stroke and other health problems as you get older, exercise may be the most important,” says Dr. Fink.

If you experience stroke symptoms, get medical care as soon as possible, because if you are having an ischemic stroke (the type produced by a blood clot), the severity can be reduced if you receive a “clot-busting” thrombolytic drug within three hours of stroke onset.

Stroke symptoms include:

¶ Sudden weakness or paralysis on one side

¶ Loss of speech or difficulty speaking or understanding speech

¶ Loss of vision in one or both eyes

¶ Sudden dizziness

¶ Sudden severe headache

Thus, incorporating more antioxidant-rich foods in your diet is among the many different ways you can do to help in reducing your risk of stroke.

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