Eating a diet high in antioxidants may protect against ischemic stroke, an Italian cohort study showed.
Pellegrini and her colleagues set out to explore the relationship between dietary total antioxidant capacity and the risk of stroke among 41,620 people participating in EPICOR, the Italian segment of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). None had a history of stroke or MI at baseline. Dietary intake was assessed with a food frequency questionnaire. In the study population, more than half of the total antioxidants consumed came from coffee, wine, and fruit. Through a mean follow-up of 7.9 years, there were 112 ischemic strokes, 48 hemorrhagic strokes, and 34 other types of strokes. After adjustment for energy intake, hypertension, smoking status, education, nonalcoholic energy intake at recruitment, alcohol intake, waist circumference, body mass index, and total physical activity, individuals eating a diet in the highest tertile of total antioxidant capacity had a reduced risk of ischemic — but not hemorrhagic — stroke.
Looking at individual antioxidants, the researchers found that participants consuming the highest amounts of vitamin C had a reduced risk of ischemic stroke (HR 0.58, 95% CI 0.34 to 0.99). Controlling for vitamin C intake did not negate the overall association between antioxidants and ischemic stroke, which ruled out the nutrient as the sole driver of the relationship. High intake of vitamin E, on the other hand, was associated with nearly triple the relative risk of hemorrhagic stroke. However, “it must be stressed that the small number of cases observed in this population strongly limits the validity of statistical observations on hemorrhagic stroke,” noted the researchers, who called for further studies.
Aside from anti-inflammatory effects, it is possible that the association between antioxidants and ischemic stroke risk can be explained by the interaction between polyphenols — the major contributors to total antioxidant capacity — and the generation of nitric oxide from the vascular endothelium. That interaction leads to the vasodilation and expression of genes that may be protective for the vascular system, according to the researchers. In addition, coffee — the main source of antioxidants in the study population — reduces blood pressure, which is a recognized risk factor for ischemic stroke, the researchers wrote.
They noted some limitations of the study, including the low numbers of cases when different types of stroke were analyzed, the measurement of total antioxidant capacity at baseline only, and the inability to rule out confounding effects of other dietary components, like sodium and potassium.
Source: Del Rio D, et al “Total antioxidant capacity of the diet is associated with lower risk of ischemic stroke in a large Italian cohort” J Nutr 2011; 141: 118-123.