A healthy diet and lifestyle may substantially reduce the risk of stroke in women, according to a study published online ahead of print October 8 in Neurology. Researchers analyzed five factors that make up a healthy lifestyle: healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, never smoking, physical activity, and healthy BMI. Compared with women with none of the five healthy factors, women with all five factors had a 54% lower risk of stroke.
“Because the consequences of stroke are usually devastating and irreversible, prevention is of great importance,” said study author Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. “These results are exciting because they indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle can substantially reduce the risk of stroke, and these are lifestyle choices that people can make.”
A total of 31,696 Swedish women with an average age of about 60 completed a 350-item questionnaire about their diet and lifestyle. They were then followed for an average of 10 years. A healthy diet was defined as within the top 50% of a recommended food score measuring how often the participants ate healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as three to nine drinks per week. Being physically active was defined as walking or biking at least 40 minutes a day, along with more vigorous exercise at least one hour per week. A healthy BMI was considered below 25. Most women had two or three of the healthy factors. A total of 589 women had all five healthy factors, and 1,535 had none. Study participants had a total of 1,554 strokes. The risk of stroke steadily decreased with each additional healthy lifestyle factor.
Women who had a healthier diet were 13% less likely to have a cerebral infarction than were those whose diet was not as healthy. Women with healthier diets had a rate of 28 strokes per 10,000 women per year, compared with 43 strokes per 10,000 women per year among those with a less healthy diet.
Cerebral infarction is the most common cause of stroke, accounting for 80% to 85% of all strokes. Cerebral infarction is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel preventing blood and oxygen from getting to an area of the brain. No relationship was observed between the healthy factors and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.