Eating a diet rich in antioxidants is linked with a lower stroke risk in women -- regardless of whether they had a previous history of cardiovascular disease, says a new study.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden believe that the protective effect comes from antioxidants' ability to inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can also help to reduce blood clots, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, according to the American Heart Association.
"This means people should eat more foods such as fruits and vegetables that contribute to total antioxidant capacity," says study author Susanne Rautiainen, M.Sc.
The study looked at women between the ages of 49 and 83 -- 5,680 with a history of heart disease, 31,035 without. Women with no heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a decreased stroke risk of 17 percent. Women with a heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 57 percent decreased risk of a hemorrhagic stroke.
"In this study, we took into account all the antioxidants present in the diet, including thousands of compounds, in doses obtained from a usual diet," says Rautiainen. So which foods have the highest antioxidants? The researchers suggest upping your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains -- which accounted for the most antioxidants in the women's diets. Other antioxidant-rich sources include tea and chocolate.