If you have had a stroke or want to lower your risk for one, the case for eating more fruits, vegetables, and other healthy plant foods—and cutting back on meat and other animal products—gets stronger every year. A recent study published in Neurology adds to the evidence that a plant-based diet can reduce the odds of a stroke and preserve overall brain health. The study also indicates that the types of plant-based foods consumed may make a difference.
Earlier studies have looked at the benefits of plant-based diets, but this one focused on the quality of those diets, says Kathryn M. Rexrode, MD, senior author of the study and a family physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Not all plant-based diets are healthy,” she notes. “After all, you can be a vegetarian and eat pasta and cake all day.”
Dr. Rexrode and colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston studied the diets of 209,508 men and women over a roughly 25-year period and found that people who ate mostly fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (such as beans), and nuts reduced their overall risk for stroke by 10 percent. By contrast, they found no benefit against stroke among people who ate six daily servings of refined grains (such as white pasta and rice), potatoes (which convert to sugar rapidly in the body), fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages, and sugary desserts.
“If everyone in the United States followed healthy plant-based diets, we could see a reduction of about 80,000 strokes per year,” says Dr. Rexrode. “As someone who has seen the devastating impact of stroke on individuals and families, that sounds like a pretty substantial impact, and a reason to focus on diet.” Every year nearly 800,000 Americans experience a stroke, and survivors stand a one in four chance of having a second one.
Engineers at the University of California San Diego developed a soft and stretchy ultrasound patch that can be worn on the skin to monitor blood flow through major arteries and veins deep inside a person’s body.
Knowing how fast and how much blood flows through a patient’s blood vessels is important because it can help clinicians diagnose various cardiovascular conditions, including blood clots; heart valve problems; poor circulation in the limbs; or blockages in the arteries that could lead to strokes or heart attacks.
The new ultrasound patch developed at UC San Diego can continuously monitor blood flow—as well as blood pressure and heart function—in real time. Wearing such a device could make it easier to identify cardiovascular problems early on.
A team led by Sheng Xu, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, reported the patch in a paper published July 16 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The patch can be worn on the neck or chest. What’s special about the patch is that it can sense and measure cardiovascular signals as deep as 14 centimeters inside the body in a non-invasive manner. And it can do so with high accuracy.
“This type of wearable device can give you a more comprehensive, more accurate picture of what’s going on in deep tissues and critical organs like the heart and the brain, all from the surface of the skin,” said Xu.
Higher body mass index (BMI) — an indicator of obesity — in late adolescence is associated with a significantly higher risk of first ischemic stroke in men and women under age 50, regardless of whether they had Type 2 diabetes, a new study finds. Even BMIs in the high-normal range are associated with increased stroke risk in both men and women, according to new research published today in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.
While rates of adolescent obesity and stroke among adults under the age of 50 years continue to rise around the world, the precise link between the two conditions is still not fully understood.
“Adults who survive stroke earlier in life face poor functional outcomes, which can lead to unemployment, depression and anxiety,” said study co-author Gilad Twig, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an associate professor in the Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces and the department of military medicine, Faculty of Medicine of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. “The direct and indirect costs attributed to stroke prevention and care are high and expected to keep increasing since the rate of stroke continues to rise.”
Primary care doctors can play an important role in helping to preserve brain health by encouraging healthy behaviors and addressing risk factors associated with cognitive decline, according to a new scientific report.
The American Heart Association statement published in the journal Stroke outlines seven lifestyle targets and six risk factors for brain health that primary care doctors should address in adults of all ages. The statement also has been endorsed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists.
As the nation ages, preserving brain health has become a growing concern. Mild cognitive impairment affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans age 65 and older; 1 in 7 has dementia – a number expected to triple by 2050.
“Primary care is the right home for practice-based efforts to prevent or postpone cognitive decline,” Ronald Lazar, chair of the scientific statement writing group, said in a news release. Lazar directs the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“Prevention doesn’t start in older age; it exists along the health care continuum from pediatrics to adulthood,” he said. “The evidence in this statement demonstrates that early attention to these factors improves later life outcomes.”
The statement asks primary care doctors to integrate brain health into their treatment of adults guided by the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, a collection of lifestyle targets shown to help achieve ideal heart and brain health. These include managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels; increasing physical activity; eating a healthy diet; losing weight; and not smoking.
The statement also asks them to assess their patients’ risk factors for cognitive health, including depression, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders, lower education levels and hearing loss.
“Scientists are learning more about how to prevent cognitive decline before changes to the brain have begun,” Lazar, a professor of neurology and neurobiology, said. “We have compiled the latest research and found Life’s Simple 7 plus other factors like sleep, mental health and education are a more comprehensive lifestyle strategy that optimizes brain health in addition to cardiovascular health.”
Dr. Deborah Levine, one of the statement’s co-authors, said it is never too soon to target risk factors for ideal heart and brain health. It’s also never too late.
“For example, lower blood pressure levels reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults,” she said. “In adults of all ages, the metrics in Life’s Simple 7 prevent stroke, and stroke increases the risk of dementia by more than twofold.”
Additional risk factors can help physicians identify which patients may need special attention, said Levine, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
For example, “Primary care doctors can help their patients reduce dementia risk by identifying and aggressively treating vascular risk factors like high blood pressure. Black and Hispanic individuals, women and individuals with lower educational levels appear at higher risk for dementia, so these high-risk groups are a top priority,” Levine said.
According to the statement, recent research shows high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking in adulthood and midlife increase the odds of cognitive decline in middle age. And they accelerate cognitive decline in older age.
“Many people think of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and other risk factors as affecting only heart health, yet these very same risk factors affect our brain health,” Lazar said. “Patients might be more likely to pay attention to the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors if they understood the links.”
The statement defines brain health using the term cognition, which includes memory, thinking, reasoning, communication and problem-solving.
Together, these functions enable people to navigate the everyday world, according to the report. The ability to think, solve problems, remember, perceive and communicate are crucial to successful living; their loss can lead to helplessness and dependency.
“Studies have shown that these domains are impacted by factors that are within our control to change,” Lazar said. “Prevention and mitigation are important, because once people have impaired cognition, the current treatment options are very limited.”
New research found patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had a higher risk of stroke, compared with patients who had similar infectious conditions such as influenza and sepsis in prior studies. Those who had an ischemic stroke were more likely to be older, male, Black race, or have high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) compared with other COVID-19 patients, according to late-breaking science presented today at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2021. The meeting was held virtually, March 17-19, 2021 and is a world premier meeting for researchers and clinicians dedicated to the science of stroke and brain health.
For this analysis, researchers accessed the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease Registry to investigate stroke risk among patients hospitalized for COVID-19, their demographic characteristics, medical histories and in-hospital survival. The COVID-19 Registry data pulled for this study included more than 20,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the U.S. between January and November 2020.
“These findings suggest that COVID-19 may increase the risk for stroke, though the exact mechanism for this is still unknown,” said lead study author Saate S. Shakil, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle. “As the pandemic continues, we are finding that coronavirus is not just a respiratory illness, but a vascular disease that can affect many organ systems.”
Two hundred eighty-one people (1.4%) in the COVID-19 CVD Registry had a stroke confirmed by diagnostic imaging during hospitalization. Of these, 148 patients (52.7%) experienced ischemic stroke; 7 patients (2.5%) had transient ischemic attack (TIA); and 127 patients (45.2%) experienced a bleeding stroke or unspecified type of stroke.
Possibly one of the oldest and most widespread cooking cliches is the fish are brain food. I can still hear my mother telling me to eat my fish “it’s good for your brain.” Well, guess what. It’s true.
WebMD says, “Fish really is brain food. A protein source associated with a great brain boost is fish — rich in omega 3 fatty acids, essential for brain function and development. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: higher dietary omega 3 fatty acids are linked to lower dementia and stroke risks; slower mental decline; and may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.
“For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.”
As a senior citizen and one who has dementia in his family, I was especially gratified to learn this.
In addition to eating fish, remember that cardiovascular exercise also benefits the brain directly because it sends oxygen molecules to the brain and creates new neurotransmitters.