Healthy Habits May Be Strike Against Stroke

Stroke risk in women may drop significantly with healthy lifestyle choices

(RxWiki News) Every year, more women than men have strokes, according to the National Stroke Association. Healthy lifestyle choices like eating right and exercise, however, may keep stroke at bay.

About 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year, the National Stroke Association reports.

Researchers have found that women can drastically lower their stroke risk by following these five habits: eating a healthy diet, drinking moderately, never smoking, staying active and maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI).

Deepika Gopal, MD, a clinical cardiologist with The Heart Group and on the medical staff at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, said that she recommends these lifestyle habits in her practice. "I strongly emphasize diet and lifestyle changes for risk factor modification for women at risk of stroke as well as heart disease," said Dr. Gopal, who was not involved in this study.

Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, associate professor with the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, led this research.

Dr. Larsson and her colleagues followed 31,696 Swedish women over the course of about 10 years. Patients were 60 years old on average. The patients gave information on their diet and lifestyle by completing a 350-item survey.

Women who had all five healthy factors had a 54 percent lower risk of stroke than those who had none of the factors. Each factor lowered the risk of stroke.

Those who ate a balanced diet, for instance, were 13 percent less likely to have a type of stroke called a cerebral infarction than those who did not eat healthy meals.

Cerebral infarction, a type of ischemic stroke, is caused by a blockage in the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. About 80 to 85 percent of strokes fall in this category, reports the American Academy of Neurology.

Hemorrhagic strokes, which are triggered by bleeding around the brain, are far less common.

The study authors recorded 1,554 incidents of stroke during the study — 1,155 cerebral infarctions, 246 hemorrhagic strokes and 153 unspecified strokes.

The authors found no link between the healthy factors and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

“Although the reduction in stroke risk was most pronounced for women who achieved all five low-risk lifestyle habits, achieving two, three or four is better than having none or only one,” Dr. Larsson told dailyRx News.

According to Dr. Gopal, "This is a strong population-based prospective study and has a large number of strokes and almost complete follow-up of the participants."

Most of the women surveyed did have two or three of the healthy factors. Just 589 had all five factors, and 1,535 had none.

The authors grouped patients as healthy eaters according to how many fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and other healthy foods they ate. Three to nine alcoholic drinks per week was considered moderate. The authors defined physically active as walking or biking at least 40 minutes a day, along with more vigorous exercise at least one hour per week. A BMI below 25 was considered healthy. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

The study was published online Oct. 8 in Neurology.

Grants from the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte) and the Swedish Research Council funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 8, 2014