Could Preventing Stroke Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease?

Although most people fear Alzheimer’s disease far more than stroke, in reality you should find the possibility of stroke more terrifying. A stroke is much more likely to strike and be more destructive and, in fact, tiny strokes may be the precipitating factor that pushes your brain over the brink into severe brain failure or Alzheimer’s. In a ground­breaking study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March, 1997, Dr. David Snowdon, noted brain researcher at the University of Kentucky, re­ported the astonishing news that one or two small strokes

in strategic parts of the brain boosts your chances of Alzheimer’s-type dementia twenty times over! His insights, gained from studying the structure and functioning of the brains of a large group of elderly nuns after death (the so-called Nun’s Study), suggest that Alzheimer’s-type plaques and strokes damage different specific regions of the brain, and that together they produce a synergistic whammy—worse damage and dementia than either alone. “Stroke plus Alzheimer’s is not one plus one equals two. It’s more like one plus one equals four or five,” says Dr. Snowdon.

Amazingly, your brain can show evidence of Alzheimer’s damage, but if a stroke does not come along, your brain may continue to function fairly normally—with little intel­lectual decline, memory loss, or so-called dementia. Such “tiny strokes may be the switch that flips a mildly deterio­rating brain into full-fledged dementia” as Time magazine put it. In short: “If you remain stroke-free, you can handle more lesions of Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Snowdon. He spec­ulates that a stroke on top of Alzheimer’s injuries simply potentiates brain cell destruction. Widespread inflamma­tion was also present in the brains of those most severely affected intellectually.

Dr. Snowdon’s discovery is important because there are strategies to prevent strokes, whereas there are only promis­ing, but uncertain ways to stop the initial brain injuries of Alzheimer’s. The idea, then, says Dr. Snowdon, is to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s damage by preventing strokes. Even postponing Alzheimer’s dementia by five years would slash in half the number of people with overt symptoms of the disease, he says.

BOTTOM LINE: Reduce your odds of stroke and you stay many steps away from Alzheimer’s and the con­sequent intellectual downslide known as dementia.


One antistroke secret is simple: Eat fruits and vegetables, drink tea. It’s strikingly clear that eating fruits and vegeta­bles helps prevent strokes and lessen damage should you suffer a stroke. Medical researchers have been screaming this message for more than two decades. It’s a mystery why fruits and vegetables are such powerful stroke-fighters; it could be their high antioxidants, potassium, folic acid, or many factors combined. But the evidence is so utterly com­pelling that the first thing you should do to avoid stroke is eat more fruits and vegetables.

As part of the large-scale Framingham Study, Harvard researchers followed 832 men, ages forty-five to sixty-five for twenty years; the more fruit and vegetables the men ate, the less likely they were to have a stroke or a warning sign of stroke, a TIA (transient ischemic attack). In fact, increas­ing intake of fruits and vegetables by three servings per day reduced overall stroke rates 22 percent and risk of hemor­raghic or bleeding stroke by 51 percent! A serving is one fruit or vegetable or one-half cup. The fruits and vegeta­bles had an impact unrelated to blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, drinking, exercise, or fat or calorie intake. In short, some magical ingredients in fruits and vegetables appear to help protect against stroke regardless of what else you do. In this study, vegetables had more antistroke power than fruits.

Women, too, slash stroke risk by eating fruits and veg­etables, particularly carrots, according to a previous Har­vard study that tracked 90,000 women nurses for eight years. Just eating slightly less than a carrot a day cut the odds of stroke in the women an astounding 68 percent com­pared with eating carrots only once a month! Eating spinach also dramatically deterred strokes. A common stroke-fighting element in the vegetables could be the antioxidant beta-carotene, said researcher JoAnn E. Man­son, M.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

A more recent thirty-year look at 1,843 men (middle-aged when the study started) found that those who ate fruits and vegetables with the most beta-carotene and vitamin C were least apt to have nonfatal or fatal stroke. Indeed, the highest intake of beta-carotene decreased risk about 15 per­cent compared with the lowest intake. And vitamin C sup­pressed stroke risk about 30 percent.

Another brain-protecting miracle agent in fruits and veg­etables and tea are flavonoids—non-nutrient chemicals, such as quercetin and catechins and pigments. Dutch researchers found that those who ate the most flavonoids in fruits, veg­etables, and tea were 73 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those eating the least flavonoids. In this case, black tea was the biggest contributor to antistroke flavonoids in the diet. Drinking about five cups of tea a day versus two-and-a­half cups per day reduced the risk of stroke 70 percent.

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Another secret ingredient of fruits and vegetables is potas­sium, and eating a little extra potassium (also in fish and milk) may save you from a deadly stroke. The evidence is con­sistent and compelling. A pioneering classic study a decade ago in California came to the stunning conclusion that just an extra serving of a potassium-rich food (400 milligrams) every day reduced the risk of fatal stroke by a startling 40 percent! A mere extra banana or apple or half cup of spinach a day spelled the difference between life and death. By analyzing the diets of 859 men and women over age fifty, Dr. Kay Tee Khaw, and colleagues at the University of California, docu­mented that the intake of potassium predicted who was most apt to have a stroke twelve years later.

Among those who ate the least potassium (less than 1950 milligrams per day) compared with those who ate the most (more than 3500 milligrams a day), the risk of fatal stroke skyrocketed 2.6 times in men and 4.8 times in women. The protective difference: only 400 milligrams of potassium a day. Further, the more potassium foods the subjects ate, the more their stroke risk dropped.

And there’s more evidence that potassium may save you from stroke:

Harvard researchers tracked 43,738 male health profes­sionals for eight years and recently noted that those who took in the most potassium in foods and supplements had the lowest rates of stroke. Men in the top 20 percent of potassium intake were 38 percent less apt to have a stroke than those in the lowest 20 percent. Lowest-risk men ate about eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day, twice that of men with the highest stroke risk. Moreover, men who took diuretics for high blood pressure and also took potassium supplements (about 1000 milligrams daily) were 64 percent less apt to have a stroke than diuretic takers who did not take potassium.

One of the most persuasive recent studies measured blood levels of potassium in 824 men and women partici­pating in the Northern Manhattan. Stroke Study. Those with the highest blood potassium were 40 percent less likely to have a stroke.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota find that potassium does more to fight strokes than just lower blood pressure. Potassium also protects the lining of blood ves­sels, the endothelium, against free-radical damage in animals with high blood pressure. Thus, potassium may directly combat high-blood-pressure-induced damage to arteries, making them less susceptible to a stroke.


Each of these foods provides the extra 400 milligrams of daily potassium shown to slash the odds of fatal stroke by 40 percent.

  • ·      1/2 cup cooked fresh spinach (423 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 cup cooked fresh beet greens (654 milligrams)
  • 1 tsp. blackstrap molasses (400 milligrams)
  • 1 cup tomato juice (536 milligrams)
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice (472 milligrams)
  • ·          1/4 cantaloupe (412 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 cup acorn squash (446 milligrams)
  • 10 dried apricot halves (482 milligrams)
  • 2 carrots (466 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 cup cooked sweet potato (455 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 cup cooked green lima beans (484 milligrams)
  • 1 cup skim milk (418 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 Florida avocado (742 milligrams)
  • 1 banana (451 milligrams)
  • 2 ounces almonds (440 milligrams)
  • 1 ounce roasted soybeans (417 milligrams)
  • 17-ounce baked potato without skin (512 milligrams)
  • 17-ounce baked potato with skin (844 milligrams)
  • ·      1/2 cup baked beans (613 milligrams)
  • 3 ounces (about eight) canned sardines (500 milligrams)
  • 3 ounces swordfish steak (465 milligrams)

Reprinted from Food—Your Miracle Medicine

Jean-Paul Marat

Many tips are based on recent research, while others were known in ancient times. But they have all been proven to be effective. So keep this website close at hand and make the advice it offers a part of your daily life.

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