Recent research has found that a so-called "Western" diet—mainly red and processed meats, refined grains, full-fat dairy products, sweets and desserts—could influence your risk of stroke.
Research used Nurses’ Health Study
Scientists gathered dietary information on 71,768 women in the Nurses' Health Study, a national study begun in 1976. In the study, women filled out detailed questionnaires about their eating habits in 1984 and again every four years over a 14-year period. The authors identified two eating patterns—a Western diet and a prudent diet.
Each nurse in the study received a prudent score and a Western score based on what they were eating. In each case, a higher score indicated a higher adherence to the particular pattern.
The women were ranked according to their scores and divided into two groups of five. Participants at the top of each group were those whose diets most closely resembled the Western and prudent diets, respectively. Those at the bottom of the groups became the reference group.
Stroke risk nearly doubled
Over the 14-year study period, there were 791 strokes, including 476 ischemic strokes (the most common type), 189 hemorrhagic (caused by a blood vessel rupturing on or neat the brain), and 126 unclassified strokes.
After adjusting for lifestyle and other stroke risk factors, women with the highest Western diet scores were at nearly double the risk of developing any type of stroke compared to those with the lowest scores for that diet. Similarly, risk of ischemic stroke—when a blood clot blocks an artery or blood vessel in the brain—was nearly double among women with the highest Western diet scores versus those with the lowest.
Secondary factors increase risk
Also, secondary factors coupled with a Western diet could increase the risk by up to four times. The risk of ischemic stroke was four times higher for smokers whose diets most closely resembled the Western diet compared to nonsmokers whose dietary habits strayed from that eating pattern. Women with high blood pressure whose diets closely mimicked a Western-style pattern had a threefold risk of ischemic stroke compared to women who were not hypertensive and did not stick to the red meat-and-sweets regimen.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 700,000 Americans annually.