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Does the Mediterranean diet prevent stroke?

Posted by: Adrianna Zec on 11/14/2011 7:00:00 AM

Known for its heart and dietary benefits, the Mediterranean diet is being looked at by researchers to see if it has implications for stroke and other neurological diseases.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant foods, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts combined with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil. Red meats are limited to a few times a month and fish is recommended twice a week. The diet also uses herbs and spices, rather than salt, for flavor.

Recently, a study published in the Journal of American Cardiology showed the Mediterranean diet, traditionally served in places along the sea by that name, reduced the risk of “metabolic syndrome,” a cluster of conditions including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, that often lead to heart disease or stroke.

Analyzing 50 academic papers, researchers at Greece’s Harokopio University found that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have a longer life expectancy and lower rates of the chronic diseases associated with metabolic syndrome. Previously, studies have linked the diet with a reduced risk of cardiovascular death and reduced incidences of cancer, cancer mortality, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

There's very little in the research about a direct connection between the Mediterranean diet and stroke, but in the last year, an analysis of data from the ongoing Nurses' Health Study indicated that women who followed a Mediterranean diet are significantly less likely to develop heart disease and stroke. More studies are needed to see if the results apply to men.

Going completely Mediterranean might seem a little daunting, but there are simple ways to get started.

  • Begin the day with foods rich in fiber like fruits and whole grains. You'll feel fuller longer.
  • Substitute fish for meat when possible. If you aren’t a fish fan, try some of the less "fishier" varieties such as cod or tilapia. Salmon is also a great choice and is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which may also help to reduce heart disease risk.
  • Consider making a veggie dinner, such as a veggie fajita with whole-grain tortillas.
  • Try eating a fruit salad for dessert.
  • The Mediterranean diet also includes red wine, which you can enjoy in moderation.

This is not to say that individuals who do not fall into these high-risk groups are not susceptible to emotional adjustment following a stroke. That's because post-stroke depression is associated with the experience of loss: loss of functioning, loss of roles, and loss of identity.

Often, patients experience overwhelming grief following a stroke, and they will isolate themselves socially because they are embarrassed by their physical or cognitive changes. The neurological changes resulting from stroke may lead to emotional outbursts, lack of empathy, apathy, or difficulty understanding and interpreting emotion.

So whether you're ready to go all Mediterranean right away or whether you're interested in learning more about it, remember that even small changes, consistently practiced, can make a difference in your health and can help to reduce the risks associated with heart disease and stroke.

For more information, visit WebMd or read “The Mediterranean Prescription: Meal Plans and Recipes to Help You Stay Slim and Healthy for the Rest of Your Life” by Angelo Acquista.

Adrianna Zec, M.A., is a doctoral intern with Neuropsychology Specialists at Lancaster General Health. Following completion of her internship, she will be awarded her doctorate from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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