A new U.K. study finds that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet can significantly lower the risk of stroke in women over the age of 40, regardless of menopausal status or hormone replacement therapy.

A traditional Mediterranean-style diet includes a high intake of fish, fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereal foods and potatoes and reduced meat and dairy consumption.

The research, published in the journal Stroke, is one of the largest and longest-running efforts to evaluate the potential benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet in lowering risk of stroke.

Over a 17-year period, researchers from the Universities of East Anglia, Aberdeen and Cambridge examined 23,232 participants’ diets and compared stroke risk among four groups ranked highest to lowest by how closely they adhered to a Mediterranean style diet.

Study participants (Caucasian, ages 40 to 77) were from the EPIC-Norfolk study, the United Kingdom Norfolk arm of the multicenter European Prospective Investigation into Cancer study.

In participants who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet, the reduced onset of stroke was:

  • 17 percent in all adults;
  • 22 percent in women; and
  • 6 percent in men (which researchers said could have been due to chance).

“It is unclear why we found differences between women and men, but it could be that components of the diet may influence men differently than women,” said Ailsa A. Welch, Ph.D., study lead author and professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

“We are also aware that different sub-types of stroke may differ between genders. Our study was too small to test for this, but both possibilities deserve further study in the future.”

The researchers also found a 13 percent overall reduced risk of stroke in participants already at high risk of cardiovascular disease across all four groups of the Mediterranean-diet scores. However, this was driven primarily by women who showed a 20 percent reduced stroke risk. This benefit appeared to be extended to participants in the low risk group although the possibility of a chance finding cannot be ruled out completely.

“Our findings provide clinicians and the public with information regarding the potential benefit of eating a Mediterranean-style diet for stroke prevention, regardless of cardiovascular risk,” said Professor Phyo Myint, M.D., study co-author and former British Association of Stroke Physicians Executive Committee member, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

“A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone both young and old,” said Welch.

The study used seven-day diet diaries, which the researchers said had not been done before in such a large population. Seven-day diaries are more precise than food-frequency questionnaires and participants write down everything they eat and drink over the period of a week.

Research suggests that having a stroke can increase the risk of anxiety and/or depression. Depression affects between one- and two-thirds of stroke survivors, according to the American Stroke Association.

Source: American Heart Association