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Jun 12, 2014 06:06 AM EDT

Protein-Rich Diet Lowers Stroke Risk, Study

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A protein-rich diet reduces stroke risk by lowering the blood pressure - a new study by the Nanjing University School of Medicine in Nanjing, China, shows.

According to Stroke Association, about 795,000 Americans experience a new or recurrent stroke every year. Poor diet is a major risk factor for stroke. High-fat foods trigger the accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. Bbeing overweight can also lead to elevated blood pressure levels.

For the study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of all available research in the field to determine the link between dietary protein intake and stroke risk.

The researchers found that participants with highest levels of proteins in their diets were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke. They also found that an additional consumption of 20g of proteins every day reduces stroke risk by 26 percent.

The lowered stroke risk was more prominent in participants who ate animal protein in higher quantities rather than vegetable protein. Researchers said that animal protein should be sourced from fish rather than red meat as it has been associated with a higher risk of stroke. This is significant because two of the seven studies analyzed were conducted in Japan, where fish intake is higher and red meat is consumed in lower quantities.

"This risk reduction would be translated into a reduction of 1,482,000 stroke deaths every year worldwide and is expected to produce overall health benefits by decreasing the level of disability," the researchers said, Medical News Today reports.

Although researchers did not determine the exact role of dietary protein behind reduced stroke risk, they believe that it could be partly due to blood pressure-lowering effects of protein.

In one study, higher protein levels significantly lowered triglyrcerides, total cholesterol and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol) than participants who adopted a high-carbohydrate diet. This could explain the role of protein in reduced stroke risk.

However, the researchers said that further studies need to be conducted to reaffirm the finding as the current analysis carries some limitation. For example, the percentage of participants who consumed vegetable protein was small. This might have shown the beneficial effect of animal protein in lowering stroke risk on a larger scale than vegetable protein.

The finding is published in the journal Neurology.

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