A study published in Stroke:  Journal of the American Heart Association found that Swedish women with a diet high in antioxidants experienced fewer strokes - even those with a history of cardiovascular disease!

Oxidative stress can damage blood vessels and cause inflammation.  It occurs when the body is overridden by harmful free radicals and is unable to defuse them. Antioxidants can help to reduce oxidative stress, blood clotting and inflammation.  Susanne Rautianen, the lead author of the Swedish study, stressed the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet. “Eating antioxidant-rich foods may reduce your risk of stroke by inhibiting oxidative stress and inflammation,” she commented.

Her study examined 31,035 women without cardiovascular disease (CD) and 5,680 women with a history of the disease between 49 and 83 years of age from the Swedish Mammography Cohort.  Participants were surveyed to determine their total antioxidant capacity (TAC).  This measures the ability of antioxidants in the diet to lower free radicals, taking the interaction of various substances into account.

The subjects were grouped by their TAC levels and were followed from September 1997 to the date of a stroke, the date of death or December 31, 2009 - whichever occurred sooner.  This resulted in a period averaging 11.5 years for the subjects free of cardiovascular disease and a period averaging 9.6 years for those with cardiovascular disease.  Subjects that were free of cardiovascular disease experienced 1,322 strokes, and 1,007 strokes occurred among subjects with a history of CD.

In the healthiest group of women with no prior heart disease, fruits and vegetables in the diet contributed to nearly 50% of their TAC levels.  Other helpful dietary substances were whole grains measuring 18 %, tea at 16% and chocolate at 5%.

Findings indicated that:

  • Higher TAC levels were associated with reduced rates of stroke in women without prior CD.
  • The risks of total stroke in women with the highest levels of TAC and no CD history were significantly reduced.
  • Women with a history of CD in the highest three TAC-level groups experienced a 46 to 57% lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke than women in the lowest group.

Subjects with a high level of dietary antioxidants may have been healthier in general due to good lifestyle choices.  This could impact study results, but Rautianen observed, “…the inverse association between dietary TAC and stroke persisted after adjustments for potential confounders related to healthy behavior…”

While more research is needed – particularly among subjects with a prior history of cardiovascular disease – this study stresses the importance of nutrition to good health.  Antioxidants abundant in fruits and vegetables can contribute to a healthier you!