I’ve heard it said that the only thing worse than dying from a stroke is surviving one.
While death is clearly the worst-case scenario for anyone, stroke survivors typically have a long road ahead of them. They often need physical therapy to regain use of their limbs, as well as speech therapy to regain their voice.
And with stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity on the rise, it’s clear we need a stroke solution and we need it fast.
Fortunately, Scandinavian researchers have found that the answer may lie right in your kitchen.
Antioxidant-Rich Foods to the Rescue
Researchers used the Swedish Mammography Cohort group to determine the relationship between an antioxidant-rich diet and stroke risk. The cohort included Swedish women born between 1914 and 1948.
The women were sent several questionnaires regarding their height, weight, diet, etc. In 1997, a more in-dept questionnaire was sent that detailed the women’s supplement use, smoking habits, exercise level, aspirin use, and history of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Nearly 39,000 women answered this questionnaire. For this study, researchers excluded women who had been diagnosed with cancer, as well as those who indicated a high calorie intake. This narrowed the subject pool down to more than 36,700 women, whom researchers followed from September 1997 through December 2009.
Researchers then reviewed the women’s food questionnaires and identified 30 items that had oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) values. A food’s ORAC score is a good indicator of its antioxidant power. The higher the ORAC score, the higher the level of antioxidants in that food.
Researchers used the ORAC value to find the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of each food or beverage. Common foods included:
- Whole grains
Researchers then noted the cardiovascular health of each woman. They divided the group into those who had no cardiovascular events (approximately 31,000) and those who had had a previous cardiovascular event (approximately 5,700), such as stroke, angina, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure or myocardial infarction.
Finally, researchers noted those women that had suffered from a stroke, which they characterized into four categories:
- Cerebral infarction
- Intracerebral hemorrhage
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage
- Unspecified stroke
Researchers then looked at those women who had not had a previous cardiovascular event. They found that, over the course of 11.5 years, there had been 1,322 stroke cases. They also learned that those women who ate the foods with the most antioxidants had a 17 percent lower risk for total stroke than those women who ate foods with the fewest antioxidants.
When the researchers looked at those women who had suffered from a previous cardiovascular event, they found that, over the course of 9.6 years, there had been 1,007 stroke cases. They discovered that while there was no significant difference in antioxidant consumption when it came to total stroke or cerebral infarction, those women who ate one to three times more antioxidant-rich foods had a significantly lower risk (57 percent) for hemorrhagic stroke than those women who ate the fewest antioxidant-laden foods (46 percent).
Researchers concluded, “[Total antioxidant capacity] of the diet may be of importance for the prevention of total stroke among [cardiovascular disease]-free women and hemorrhagic stroke among women with a [cardiovascular disease] history.”
Aim for the ORAC
Upping your antioxidant intake is just plain good advice, regardless of your gender or previous cardiovascular status. Here are a few easy ways to increase your ORAC and TAC levels:
- Add berries to oatmeal, yogurt and/or salad.
- Swap mashed potatoes for pureed cauliflower.
- Make a sandwich with roasted sweet potatoes, grilled onions, goat cheese, romaine lettuce and a red pepper spread.
- Use sliced apples or pears in place of crackers when eating cheese.
- Switch from coffee to green tea.
- Have an ounce or two of dark chocolate as dessert. The higher the cocoa count, the more antioxidants.
- Use quinoa instead of couscous in any recipe.
 Rautiainen, S et al. Total antioxidant capacity of diet and risk of stroke. Stroke. 2011 Dec 1. [Epub ahead of print.]