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Men, befriend those fruits and value those veggies. Eating lots of them may lower the risk of having a stroke.

A 20-year study found that middle-age men who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables were significantly less likely to suffer strokes than other men."It was a bit surprising to us how strong (the link) was," said the study's lead author, Dr. Matthew W. Gillman, assistant professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Community Health Plan.

"For every increase of three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, there was approximately a 20 percent decrease in the risk of stroke," he said in a telephone interview Monday from Boston.

The findings are published in Wednesday's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The results parallel findings reported two years ago among women. Those who ate lots of spinach, carrots and other vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidant nutrients had a 54 percent lower risk of stroke than other women.

Stroke is the third leading cause of U.S. deaths, killing about 150,000 of the 500,000 people it strikes a year.

The new study involved 832 men ages 45 to 65 who were tracked in the Framingham, Mass., Heart Study for two decades. Over that time, 73 men suffered strokes and 24 others suffered transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes.

The researchers calculated differences in stroke risk while accounting for other factors that might have affected the results - differences in blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and body fat.

The study did not explore how fruits and vegetables might be protective. But several possibilities have been suggested, including the fact that such foods are rich in antioxidant nutrients, Gillman said.

Antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta carotene help prevent oxidation of "bad" cholesterol. When bad cholesterol combines with oxygen, it can lodge in arteries and restrict blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Fruits and vegetables also contain potassium, which has been linked to blood-pressure control.

Another nutrient with suspected stroke-fighting potential is folate, or folic acid. Low levels of folate are associated with high blood concentrations of an amino acid called homocysteine that contributes to blocked arteries.

Dr. Lewis Kuller, chairman of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, was skeptical of the new research as well as the study among women that found similar results.