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Mediterranean Diet May Prevent Stroke-Related Brain Damage

Following a Mediterranean Diet May Lower Risk of Silent Strokes
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 8, 2010 - Avoiding potentially dangerous silent strokes may be another health benefit of following a Mediterranean diet.

A new study shows people who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 36% less likely to have areas of brain damage linked to silent strokes than those who least closely followed the diet. These areas of brain damage, called brain infarcts, are a result of silent strokes that can occur without symptoms or a person knowing it.

"The relationship between this type of brain damage and the Mediterranean diet was comparable with that of high blood pressure," says researcher Nikolas Scarmeas, MD, MSc, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, in a news release. "In this study, not eating a Mediterranean-like diet had about the same effect on the brain as having high blood pressure."

The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, and monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, dairy products, meat, and poultry, plus mild to moderate use of alcohol, especially wine.

Diet for a Better Brain

In the study, which will be presented in April at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Toronto, researchers analyzed the diets of 712 adults in New York and divided them into three groups based on how closely they followed a Mediterranean diet.

Nearly six years later, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of the participants and look for any areas of brain tissue damage related to silent stroke. A total of 238 people showed evidence of at least one area of brain damage caused by a silent stroke.

The results showed those who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 36% less likely to have areas of stroke-related brain damage than those who least closely followed the diet. Those who were moderate followers of Mediterranean style diet had a 21% lower risk of brain damage, compared with the lowest group.

This potential health benefit of a Mediterranean diet appeared especially strong in women, who had a 45% reduced risk of stroke-related brain damage if they closely followed the diet compared with a 16% lower risk among men.

Researchers say previous studies show following a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.

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