Relationship between Diets and Strokes

By Shantika Bhat, VRG intern

A recently published study examined close to 210,00 men and
women to determine whether subjects
whose diets included more plant foods had a lower risk of strokes. To
evaluate the quality of the participants’ food intake the researchers used
three different indices: the plant-based diet index (PDI), the healthful
plant-based diet index (hPDI), and the unhealthful plant-based diet index
(uPDI). Healthy plant foods included whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts,
and legumes. Plant foods categorized as unhealthy included sugar-sweetened
beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets/desserts. They used the
participants’ scores on these different indices to look at any association with
their diet and risk of strokes (total, ischemic, hemorrhagic).  Ischemic strokes
are due to a blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain while hemorrhagic
strokes are caused by a weakened blood vessel rupturing and bleeding into the

They found that a better score on the hPDI, indicating a
more healthful plant-based diet, was associated with a 10% lower total stroke
risk and marginally lower ischemic stroke risk. Also, those who had higher
animal product intakes had a higher risk of strokes compared to those whose
diets were lower in animal products. A higher score on the uPDI, indicating a
more unhealthful plant-based diet was associated with a greater risk of stroke.
Although most study subjects were not vegetarian, the study included about 1700
lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegetarians tended to have higher scores for the PDI and
hPDI because they ate more whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes
compared to non-vegetarians. There seemed to be no overall effect of the
vegetarian diet when it came to the risk of stroke although the small number of
strokes in vegetarians made it difficult to draw conclusions. Overall, eating healthy plant-based diet is
associated with a lower risk of strokes.  

Baden MY, Shan Z, Wang F, et al. Quality of
plant-based diet and risk of total, ischemic, and hemorrhagic stroke. Neurology. 2021;96(15):e1940-e1953.

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