Women have a higher risk factor for stroke than men. Ageing and being a woman are two risk factors for stroke that can’t be controlled, but following a Mediterranean diet plan may help older women reduce risk factor for stroke.
A September 2018 study published in Stroke found that women above 40 years who ate a Mediterranean diet reduced their risk for stroke by an average of 22%. Women are more at the risk of stroke and die more from strokes than men. According to the American Stroke Association, the risk for strokes doubles in men and women every 10 years after age 55.
Ailsa Welch, PhD, the lead author, a professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia in the UK says, “Our research shows that following a Mediterranean-style diet rich in beans, vegetables, nuts, fruits and fish and lower in dairy and meat, may reduce stroke risk for women above 40.”
Researchers did not observe the same protective effect of the diet in men, who had just a statistically insignificant risk reduction of 6% from following the Mediterranean diet, but Dr. Welch says, “Everyone, both young and old needs a healthy, balanced diet.”
Prior studies suggest the Mediterranean diet may be helpful for preventing stroke and heart disease. For example, a meta-analysis published in Food Science and Nutrition in October 2017 found that the approach – and particularly a diet high in legumes, fruit, veggies and olive oil – may help protect against heart disease and heart-disease-related death.
Why the Mediterranean diet may protect women against stroke rather than men?
The results of the current study are based on the health data of about 12,700 women and 10,600 men in England. Participants were between 40 and 77 years old and kept track of their eating with 7-day diet diaries. During the 17-year research period, 2,009 strokes occurred.
Women who participated in the study and closely adhere to the Mediterranean diet saw a protective effect against stroke regardless of whether they underwent hormone replacement therapy or their menopausal status.
Phyo Myint, MD, the lead researcher and clinical chair of medicine at the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine Scotland says, “it is not clear why we found a difference between men and women, but it could be that components of the diet may influence men differently than women.”
“The difference found may be due to differences in a risk factor that affect only women or difference in women response for risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure.”
According to Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Baylor Scott & White Health in Plano, Texas, who was not among the researchers, the results attest to the potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
She says, “Since the Mediterranean diet appears to lower heart attack risk in both men and women and also protect against other chronic issues, including cancer and dementia, it is a good choice for most people.”
A review published in Nutrients in July 2017 suggests those who consume a Mediterranean diet seem to have a higher intake of brain-boosting nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, folic acid, iodine, selenium and vitamin B12, potentially providing protection from Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.
Samaan says, “Because the diet is not as protective against stroke for men compared to women is not a reason to avoid it.”
Authors of this latest study also found that participants who were already at high risk of heart disease had an overall reduced stroke risk of 13%.
Welch says one of the limitations of the study was that diets were only evaluated at the beginning of the investigation. “So we cannot exclude the possibility that people’s diets changed during the period of the study,” she says.
Welch also says that the participants lacked racial diversity, so there wasn’t enough data to understand the relationship between stroke and diet for a non-white population.
She also says, “Future studies need to investigate why the results were different between men and women in response to the Mediterranean diet, and if it is because of the differences in risk factor, or whether women respond differently to risk factors like diabetes and blood pressure.”
Factors that may increase the risk for stroke in older women are pregnancy, smoking, gestational diabetes or a history of preeclampsia/eclampsia, postmenopausal hormone therapy and the use of oral contraceptive (especially when combined with smoking).
The bottom line
While there is a need for more study to know why the results are different between men and women, it is important to eat healthy food. The Mediterranean diet is excellent for your heart and if you want to stay on top of your health and remain fit always, the diet can help.