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Eating More Fiber May Lower First-Time Stroke Risk

Update Date: Mar 28, 2013 05:03 PM EDT
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New research reveals more reason to eat more fiber.  Besides preventing constipation, weight gain and lowering the risk of diabetes, scientists found that dietary fiber in foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains may also decrease the risk of first-time stroke. 

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that the body can't break down or absorb during digestion. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble and unlike other components of food such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which can be broken down and absorbed by the body, it passes intact through the stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.

Past studies have suggested that fiber may help reduce risk factors of stroke, like high blood pressure and high blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Now, researcher found that each seven-gram increase in total daily fiber intake was associated with a 7 percent decrease in first-time stroke risk.  Seven grams of fiber is equivalent to about one serving of wheat pasta plus two servings of fruits of vegetables.

"Greater intake of fiber-rich foods - such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts - are important for everyone, and especially for those with stroke risk factors like being overweight, smoking and having high blood pressure," lead author Diane Threapleton, M.Sc., and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Leeds' School of Food Science & Nutrition in Leeds, United Kingdom, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed eight studies published between 1990 and 2012.  They studies were on all types of stroke with four examining the risk of ischemic stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain, and three examining the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bleeds into the brain or on its surface.

Researchers accounted for other stroke risk factors such as age and smoking.

Researchers noted that the findings were based on total dietary fiber.  The analysis did not find an association with soluble fiber and stroke risk, and lacked enough data on insoluble fiber to make any formal conclusions.

Researchers say that the average daily fiber intake among U.S. adults is lower than the American Heart Association's recommendation of at least 25 grams per day.

"Most people do not get the recommended level of fiber, and increasing fiber may contribute to lower risk for strokes," Threapleton said. "We must educate consumers on the continued importance of increasing fiber intake and help them learn how to increase fiber in their diet."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 133,000 people in 2008. Among survivors, stroke is a leading cause of disability. More than 795,000 Americans have a stroke and about 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.

Besides following a nutritious diet, experts at the American Heart Association recommend that people be physically active and avoid tobacco to help prevent stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

The findings are published in the journal Stroke.

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