Olive Oil Lowers Stroke Risk by 40%

July 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

Last week I was encouraging you to eat more strawberries and now continuing the healthy summer diet theme I would like to see you pouring out more of the golden liquid – preferably cold pressed and organic. New research shows that regular olive oil consumption lowers stroke risk and by a highly significant amount, particularly in the elderly.

Critical research released in the journal Neurology from the American Academy of Neurology provides evidence that regular consumption of olive oil can help to do more than keep your heart healthy. The value of the Mediterranean diet is now well proved but this new study study examined individuals over the age of 65 that are most vulnerable to the devastating effects of a stroke. Scientists suggest that olive oil taken as part of a healthy diet can lower the life-altering risks associated with a stroke by 41% in the elderly. Based on this body of work, researchers “suggest that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older.”

The study author was Dr. Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux in France and she and her researchers examined the medical records of 7,625 aging adults 65 or older from three cities in France. These were in generally good health and had no prior history of stroke. Participants were monitored via a dietary questionnaire to record how much olive oil they used and then that was broken down into three groups: none, moderate and intense which was based on their regular consumption habits. Because this was a home, not a laboratory trial they were assessing not just their consumption but the type of oil they used at home and it is significant to note that virtually all of it was extra virgin and cold pressed. This type of minimally processed oil is what is recommended to combat heart disease and has been previously found to lower the risk of heart disease in prior studies. Extra virgin olive oil is known to be a rich source of natural polyphenols from the olive fruit; it alters the oxidized, sticky nature of LDL cholesterol that is implicated with plaque build-up in the arteries.

This was a long term study as they followed the participants for a period of five years, and 148 strokes occurred during that time span. After considering dietary, lifestyle and medical history, researchers found that those with the highest intake of extra virgin olive oil were 41% less likely to suffer a stroke compared with those with the lowest consumption of the monounsaturated oil. In a secondary arm of this study where plasma fatty acid measurements were available, individuals with the highest oleic acid (olive oil fraction) were found to experience a 73% lower risk of stroke.

Olive oil consumption is associated with lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities and obesity and now strokes can be added to the list. Dr. Cecilia Samieri commented, “Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.” The study did not specify the amount of olive oil used by those in the `intense` group that experienced the highest degree of protection from stroke but nutritionists recommend that most people should add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil five days a week to reap the powerful health benefits of this monounsaturated oil. Be generous with the olive oil in your salad dressing, and personally I add my salad dressing to hot vegetables as well, particularly good on carrots!

New Device Uses Submarine Technology to Diagnose Stroke Quickly

April 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Healthy Ageing

I am avoiding all references to ‘up periscope’ but this is a wonderful example of the inventiveness of engineers in adapting new technology to different applications.

A medical device using submarine technology has been developed by retired U.S. Navy sonar experts for the detection, diagnosis and monitoring of strokes. This breakthrough was reported at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 36th Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago recently. Stroke is a leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the US as when a stroke occurs (when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks) this interrupts blood flow to an area of the brain. When this happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs and the faster it can be detected then the more positive is likely to be the outcome for the patient.

All it takes apparently is a laptop-based console and a headset for each type of stroke and brain trauma to be detected, identified and located in just one or two minutes . The device’s portability and speed of initial diagnosis means it can be used virtually anywhere and not just confined to hospital use. Initially both ambulance paramedics and the military have seen its advantages as it allows them to assess situations quickly and efficiently in order to provide patients with the best immediate treatment.

It has been developed from on decades of submarine warfare technology research and application by Kieran J. Murphy, M.D., FSIR, professor and vice chair, director of research and deputy chief of radiology at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The system is very simple in principle, yet it yields exceedingly rich data and the device’s basis in submarine technology means it works to measure a patient’s complex brain pulsations and to provide information on the type and location of an abnormality in many of the same ways as sonar works on submarines. Both use an array of sensors to measure movement and generate signals to be processed and analyzed, matching the signals to objects or conditions. As sonar sorts out whales and other objects from vessels, the device sorts out cerebral abnormalities such as aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs, an abnormal connection between veins and arteries), ischemic strokes and traumatic brain injury from normal variations in physiology.

Murphy said this technology could easily differentiate normal brain from life-threatening conditions, such as swelling and bleeding. “For example, when a physician suspects a stroke, time is of the essence, so doctors could use the system to determine treatment that needs to begin immediately and the device’s continuous monitoring capability — unique in neurodiagnostics — will allow immediate detection of changes in a patient’s condition.

Improved Outcome for Stroke Patients

February 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Healthy Ageing

I have two new pieces of information that came in this week that could be critical in improving the health and outcome for stroke patients. First, a Swedish discovery by brain researchers at Lund University could lead to a new effective therapy with a substance that opens up the possibility of treatment up to two days after a stroke. The opportunities to treat a stroke have long been limited to the hours after an attack and the loss of brain function caused by the stroke has previously been regarded as permanent.

The only acute treatment for a stroke currently available is thrombolysis which uses drugs that dissolve the blood clot responsible for the stroke. However, this only reaches around 10 per cent of stroke patients in time to prevent lasting damage. For other patients, there are no other effective drugs that reduce the loss of brain function following a stroke.

Swedish and American researchers have discovered a substance that reinforces the brain’s self-healing functions after a stroke. It has long been known that people affected by a stroke can regain some lost function during the first six months. Professor Tadeusz Wieloch and his colleagues have found a way to activate a protein in the brain, the sigma-1 receptor, which plays an important role in the brain’s recovery during the critical period after the injury.

The idea is to recreate and reinforce the brain’s natural response to an enriched environment. By injecting the activating substance, brain repair is stimulated. This result of Swedish basic research, which started over 15 years ago, has led to a clinical trial on stroke patients by a Japanese pharmaceutical company. It is not available yet, but it shows great promise for helping many thousands more stroke victims than at present can be treated with the usually prescribed drugs.

Physical Therapy Improves Recovery by over 50%:
Secondly, just a year after having a stroke, 52% of people who participated in physical therapy as part of their recovery programme experienced improved functional walking ability according to the results of a trial being presented this month at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011 in Los Angeles.

The 408 participants (average age 62 with recent stroke) were recruited from 6 US stroke rehabilitation centers between April 2006 and June 2009. All were assigned to 36 sessions of 75 to 90 minutes for 12 to 16 weeks in either a structured and progressive task-specific walking program that included body weight supported treadmill training provided early (2 months post-stroke) or late (6 months post-stroke), or a structured and progressive home-based exercise program of strength and balance provided 2 months post-stroke.

The researchers had thought that the body-weight supported treadmill and walking program would be superior to a home exercise program but they were wrong. After one year, the early walking group, late walking group, and exercise program targeting strength and balance achieved similar important gains in walking speed, motor recovery, balance, functional status, and quality of life.

All participants made the greatest improvements in outcomes after the first 12 sessions, but 13% of the subjects continued to make functional gains in walking recovery by 24 sessions and another 7% improved by 30 to 36 sessions.

What this suggests is that undertaking physical therapy will considerably improve quality of life and that patients recover faster and sustain recovery when the intervention is given early. If your doctor has not suggested physical therapy then take it up with them and also talk to your local group for support. You will find help via The Stroke Association at www.stroke.org.uk

Menopausal Women on Antidepressant Have Increased Risk of a Stroke

April 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


A recent study by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and sounds a warning for menopausal women who are subject to depression.

Depression is already a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease but it seems that taking antidepressants may significantly increase the risk of stroke for women who are post menopause. The study is based on data from the well respected Women’s Health Initiative which was responsible for proving that hormone replacement therapy significantly increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and death in postmenopausal women.

This was a long term six year study of over 136,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79. They found that those taking antidepressants were 45 percent more likely to suffer from a stroke in that time than women not taking the drugs, and 32 percent more likely to die from any cause. The risk of stroke for a postmenopausal woman taking an antidepressant was roughly one in 200 in each given year and the increased stroke risk from antidepressants remained the same regardless of which drug class women were taking, whether they were selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclics. However SSRIs appeared to pose a higher risk for a hemorrhagic stroke caused by brain bleeding.

The Stroke Association are currently funding further studies to look into the links between depression and the risk of stroke. If you want to reduce your own risk then simple measures to take are to make lifestyle changes such as reducing your blood pressure, giving up smoking, reducing alcohol intake, improving your diet and getting plenty of exercise.

High Fat Diet Linked to Strokes in Post Menopausal Women

March 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


This information comes from the US, but it is likely to be highly relevant for all women on a western diet. Before menopause, women have a lower risk of stroke compared to men of similar age, but this situation reverses after menopause and women with a high fat intake at this point in their lives have a 40 percent higher incidence of clot-caused strokes than women on a low fat diet.

This finding was reported at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2010 and the warning bell is for women having more than 7 grams a day of trans fats, mostly found in processed, baked and fried foods.

Ischemic strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels in or leading to the brain and the researchers reported positive associations between total fat intake and ischemic stroke incidence and between trans fat intake and ischemic stroke incidence. We know from previous studies shows that different types of fat have different effects on the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), with trans fat being identified as a risk factor but those were small scale studies. This one involved 87,230 post-menopausal women ages 50 to 79 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study, by answering a food frequency questionnaire when they entered the study and were then followed for an average of 7.6 years.

During that time, 1,049 ischemic strokes occurred and the researchers looked for links between dietary fat intake of all types (saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and trans fat) and ischemic strokes and covered all health variables including physical activity, drug use, smoking, alcohol and hormone therapy. The top 25% of women had an average total fat intake of 86 grams a day and the lowest 25% consumed just 26 grams a day. With a 40% risk of stroke at the top end of fat intake it makes sense to monitor fat intake, and particularly trans fats to keep their levels down.

If you are not sure of how much fat a day you take in, there is a handy way to determine it and the example below is based on the average amount that a woman needs which is a total of 2,000 calories a day, but you can be more accurate by exactly working out your daily calorie intake.

1. Take the number of calories you eat each day and multiply it by 30 percent (.30). For example: 2,000 calories x .30 = 600 calories from fat

2. Divide your answer by 9 because there are 9 calories in each gram of fat. This will give you the number of grams of fat per day that should be your goal.

600 ÷ 9 = 65 grams

You can use a calculator if you need to I certainly did!

Vitamin E Can Prevent Nerve Cell Death After A Stroke

January 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


A study at Ohio State University has shown that blocking the function of an enzyme in the brain with a specific kind of vitamin E can prevent nerve cells from dying after a stroke. Following the trauma of blocked blood flow associated with a stroke, an excessive amount of glutamate is released in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that, in tiny amounts, has important roles in learning and memory. Too much of it triggers a sequence of reactions that lead to the death of brain cells, or neurons — the most damaging effects of a stroke.

Tocotrienol, a form of vitamin E, works by stopping the enzyme from releasing fatty acids that eventually kill nerve cells. It has already been studied over the last ten years and has been established that this form of vitamin E protects the brain in animals though not conclusively proved yet in humans.

Vitamin E occurs naturally in eight different forms; 4 forms of tocopherol and 4 forms of tocotrienol. While tocopherols are generally present in common vegetable oils like soy, wheat germ and sunflower, tocotrienols are concentrated in cereal grains such as oat, barley, rye, and rice bran. The various different forms of natural vitamin E have distinct functions and tocotrienol targets specific pathways to protect against neural cell death and rescues the brain after stroke injury

Tocotrienols and tocopherols are potent antioxidants that are 100% natural and can be derived from rice bran oil and palm oil distillates and are available in supplement form. Tocotrienol or TCT, is not abundant in the western diet but is a common component of a typical Southeast Asian diet.

What is interesting is that the amount of tocotrienol needed to achieve these effects is quite small — just 250 nanomolar, a concentration about 10 times lower than the average amount of tocotrienol circulating in anyone who regularly takes vitamin E. The benefits of vitamin E are well known for health, it a acts as a powerful antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals in the body that cause tissue and cellular damage and contributes to a healthy circulatory system.

Retrain your brain after stroke

Apparently just walking on a treadmill every day for six months can really help stroke victims regain control of mind and body – even years after their stroke. A German study of stroke victims, half of the whom could walk without assistance with the rest used a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair, has found that using a treadmill not only improved walking speed and fitness, but appeared to rewire their brain circuits. The repetitive walking action seemed to recruit unused brain circuits to take over for those destroyed by the stroke and MRI scans showed greater activity in other parts of the brain too. Stroke patients are typically told to learn to live with their disabilities, and most rehabilitation programmes focus on short-term improvement, ending just a few months after the stroke, so that over time the patients’ improvement plateaus and fitness often wanes. But this study suggests that it’s never too late for the brain and body to recover, the researchers said, noting that patients in the study had significant improvement even nine years after a stroke.

How to lower stroke risk

Do you have plenty of asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, chick peas, oranges, wheat germ and kidney beans in your diet? If so, then you are naturally getting high levels of folate, which is a water soluble member of the B vitamin family, B9 to be exact. Folate is vital in protecting you against the risk of a cerebral infarction, the most common kind of stroke. In fact it accounts for 80% of all strokes, and so a recent study wanted to look at whether supplementing with vitamins, or increased intake of foods high in , could make a difference.

A dual study in Sweden and Finland have been looking at the relationship between folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and the amino acid methionine – all of which are involved with homocysteine production. Why should they be interested in that? Because high levels of blood homocysteine are linked to increased stroke risk, and much interest is being shown in how to use supplements, and diet, in a more preventive way in healthcare.

The findings of the study are encouraging if you are at risk of a stroke: those with the highest intake of folate had a 20% lower risk of stroke than those with the lowest levels.

These findings are based on the subjects’ normal, everyday, diet. They were not given any supplements or asked to eat any differently with special foods. So if you have any incidence of strokes in your family, it makes sense to include as many of these foods as possible in your diet. I certainly have a family history and much as I dislike Brussels sprouts, I must try to love them – although I think it will be my asparagus intake that goes up first!