Can a vegetarian diet avoid an accidental stroke?

In a recently published study, Taiwanese researchers concluded that consuming a nuts, soy, and vegetable-rich vegetarian diet may reduce a person’s risk of having a stroke.

Good vegetarian diet
New research suggests that eating a plant-based diet may help prevent stroke.

The research, which appears in Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology’s medical journal, explored the link between a person’s diet and two different types of stroke that occur.

These were hemorrhagic stroke that bleeds blood from an artery into the brain, and ischemic stroke that results from a blocked blood vessel.

Every year about 795,000 people in the United States experience a new or recurrent stroke, and it is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

A stroke can lead to injuries, and the people affected are more likely to develop dementia in the future.

The American Heart Association (AHA) estimate that by 2030, almost 4% of adults in the U.S. will have had a stroke.

Is a vegetarian diet better or worse for health?

In both the United Kingdom and the United States, vegetarianism and veganism have become increasingly popular.

While many people opt for a plant-based diet for environmental and animal welfare purposes, they also often view such diets as being healthier for their health.

A study published last year by the BMJ has been studying strokes within over 48,000 meat eaters and vegetarians in the UK. The authors of the study found that although vegetarians had lower ischemic heart disease rates than meat eaters, they were more likely to get a stroke.

They concluded that there could be some factors associated with animal food consumption that might prevent a stroke.

The Taiwan study

The researchers recruited two cohorts of volunteers from Buddhist societies of Taiwan in the recently published report, totaling over 13,000 participants.

The researchers examined the participants medically at the start of the study and asked them about their diet, smoking habits, alcohol intake and physical activity.

The researchers then tracked the health of volunteers using the National Research Database on Health Insurance. For an average of 6 years, they followed the first group of volunteers, and the second group in 9 years.

The study participants were 50 years in age. The researchers did not hire anyone under the age of 20, or who had a history of stroke.

Approximately 30 per cent of volunteers were vegetarians who did not eat meat or fish and about one-quarter of these individuals were male.

The vegetarians eat more nuts, soy and vegetables than the non-vegetarians. They drank more alcohol as well, and smoked less.

While both groups ate the same amount of fruit and meat, the non-vegetarians consumed more milk and fat than the voluntary vegetarians did.

The researchers calculated that the vegetarians in the first group had a 74 per cent lower risk of ischemic stroke than the non-vegetarians after accounting for age, sex, smoking, and other health conditions.

Vegetarians in the second group had 60 percent lower ischemic stroke risk, 65 percent lower hemorrhagic stroke risk, and 48 percent lower overall stroke risk than nonvegetarians.

“Overall, our study found that a vegetarian diet was beneficial and reduced the risk of ischemic stroke even after adjusting for known risk factors like blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and fats in the blood.”

– Study author Dr. Chin-Lon Lin, Tzu Chi University in Hualien, Taiwan

“This might mean that there may be some other protective mechanism[ protecting] those who consume a vegetarian diet from strokes.”

The authors suggest in their paper that their findings can vary from those of the large study that appears in the BMJ because their participants have avoided alcohol, a potential risk factor for strokes.

The authors also noted that while it was helpful to have comprehensive data about a non-Western community of vegetarians, the findings of the study may not be relevant to populations outside of Taiwan’s Buddhist communities.

J. David Spence, professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at Western University in London, Canada, and Christy Tangney, professor at Rush University’s Department of Preventive Medicine, Chicago, IL, report on the paper in a related editorial.

We say: “The low overall risk of stroke probably reflects the baseline mean age of only about 50 years in both cohorts and the relatively short follow-up duration (5–7 years in cohort 1 and 9 years in cohort 2).”

“In both cohorts, about 30 per cent followed a vegetarian diet. Importantly, only ~25 percent of the vegetarians were men.

“The editorial authors also point out that at the beginning of the study the researchers only assessed the diets of the volunteers, noting that the participants could have changed their eating habits during the years of follow-up.

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