There are several studies that have shown that greater consumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked with reduced risk of stroke, but new research suggests it's the way you eat your fruit can significantly reduce the risk for women.
Research lead by Aedin Cassidy, Professor of Diet and Health at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in England, conducted a prospective study among 69,622 women from the Nurses' Health Study who reported food frequency questionnaires every four years, including their vegetable and fruit consumption.
It's possible that the flavonoids in citrus fruits improve blood vessel function or reduce inflammation, which has been linked with stroke, the researchers said, as they have anti-inflammatory properties and limit oxidative damage to cells in the body.
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Data from the 1990 report was used as a baseline, and then during the 14-year follow-up, there were confirmed 1803 incidents of stroke in which the researchers could make their comparisons.
The compound flavonoids (or bioflavonoids) found in fruit, vegetables, red wine and chocolate had already been associated with lower stroke risk, so the researchers focused on six classes and subclasses of flavonoids including: flavanones eriodictyol, hesperidin, and naringenin; anthocyanins; flavan-3-ols; flavonoid polymers; flavonols; and flavones.
It was found that although total flavonoid intake did not reduce stroke risk, intake of flavanones did. After adjustment for stroke risk factors such as age, body-mass index, physical activity, alcohol consumption, menopausal status, smoking, and history of type 2 diabetes, women in the top quintile of flavanone intake had a 19 percent less likely to be associated with a reduced risk of ischemic stroke (blood-clot related stroke).
"These data provide strong support for consuming more citrus fruits as part of your daily fruit and vegetable intake to reduce the risk of ischemic stroke," said Dr Cassidy.
A typical piece of citrus fruit contains 45 to 50 milligrams of flavanones. But as much of the powerful compounds are found in the pith and each segments membrane, you get a more powerful dose by eating the fruit rather than just drink the juice.
"For maximum benefit, whole fruits are preferable to juice because they contain more flavonoids and no added sugar," Dr Cassidy said.
The study authors note that those in the high flavonoids quintile also exercised more, ate more fibre, consumed less caffeine and alcohol, smoked less and ate more fruit and vegetables in general.
Although the study was completed entirely on women, Dr Cassidy is confident that future studies on men will have similar findings.
The study was published in the journal Stroke, and was funded by the US National Institute of Health.
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