Can a Banana a Day Keep Stroke at Bay?

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bananasThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

Preliminary research suggests eating potassium-rich foods like bananas and potatoes may reduce the risk of stroke and early death in older women. While the study didn’t provide proof that potassium alone rather than an overall healthy diet was responsible, the findings were strong enough that coauthor Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller advises postmenopausal women to eat more foods with a high content of this mineral.

Women who want to increase their potassium have many foods from which to choose. Fruit sources include bananas, strawberries, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, prunes and apricots, especially the dried ones. Vegetable sources are broccoli, peas, white beans and potatoes. Potassium is also found in yogurt, nuts and certain kinds of fish, such as tuna and halibut.

Potassium Foods Cut Stroke Risk as Much as 27 Percent

In the study to be published in the journal Stroke, researchers tracked more than 90,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 to 79 for a period of 11 years to tabulate their potassium consumption and monitor their stroke incidence. The participants consumed an average of 2,611 milligrams (mg) of the mineral in their food per day, which is considerably below the 4,700 mg per day recommendation of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

The results showed that women with the highest potassium consumption had a 12 percent lower risk of general stroke and a 16 percent reduced risk of ischemic stroke, the type caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain. In the group of women who did not have high blood pressure, those who ate the most potassium-rich foods cut their risk of all stroke by 21 percent and ischemic stroke by 27 percent compared to women who ate the least of these foods. In addition, women who consumed the most potassium had a 10 percent lower likelihood of death than those who ate the least.

“Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables,” notes Wassertheil-Smoller. “They’re good sources of potassium, and potassium not only lowers postmenopausal women’s risk of stroke, but also of death.”

How Is Potassium Protective Against Stroke?

“Potassium may play a role in improving blood vessel function in our brains. This could allow better oxygenation of our brain tissue and prevent tissue death that occurs from lack of oxygen to the brain,” says lead author Arjun Seth. Since potassium is a component of many healthy foods, he also speculated that the reduced stroke risk might stem from the overall consumption of a healthier diet.

Stroke is the fourth highest cause of death in the U.S., causing 130,000 fatalities per year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disorder is also a leading cause of long-term disability.

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