How Antioxidants Can Help Prevent Stroke

Making sure to get enough antioxidants in your diet may be the easiest and most effective tool you have in fighting a stroke. Antioxidant has certainly been a buzzword recently. Find out the truth about how antioxidants fight diseases like stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

Fruits and vegetables in bowls on a table
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What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are naturally occurring components of fresh fruits and vegetables. When we eat food like berries, red peppers, and nuts, the antioxidants are absorbed into the body.

Antioxidants and Stroke Protection

A Norwegian study followed 20,000 men and found that the men who ate food with high antioxidant content more than 27 times per month had a 20% reduced stroke risk. The participants also experienced lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

How to Get Antioxidants

Antioxidants are present in a number of fruits, including oranges, berries, apples, mango, and kiwi, to name just a few. They can also be found in fresh vegetables, for example, peppers, potatoes, yams, and artichokes. Usually, the raw form of fruit and vegetables is richer in antioxidant concentration than the cooked preparation.

Interestingly, some unexpected sources of antioxidants can help prevent strokes, such as coffee, red wine, and chocolate. Most processed foods and meats do not contain a significant amount of antioxidants.

Taking an Antioxidant Supplement

The best way to get antioxidants is a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, taking vitamin supplements have been shown to help in preventing stroke. Vitamins A, C, and E are particularly rich in antioxidant activity. But vitamin supplements should always be taken with caution because overdosing on vitamins is dangerous.

How Antioxidants Protect the Body From Disease

Antioxidants have an interesting biological interaction with a type of harmful chemical called a free radical. The structure of antioxidants allows them to detoxify free radicals.

To understand what antioxidants actually do, it helps to understand a little bit about free radicals and oxidative damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules formed through a chemical reaction called oxidation. When we are exposed to toxins or extreme emotional stress, we form too many free radicals. Cigarette smoke, pollution, and some chemical additives expose our bodies to toxins that trigger the formation of free radicals through oxidative damage.

Free radicals are chemically unstable, and they have a tendency to stabilize themselves by destabilizing nearby structures of the body, causing diseases such as stroke, heart attacks, and cancer.

However, antioxidants are particularly stable and can actually safely stabilize free radicals before the free radicals have an opportunity to wreak havoc on the body. Thus, antioxidants have been found to counteract the effects of free radicals and oxidative stress. That is why antioxidants are given that name—because they combat the effects of oxidative damage.

How Antioxidants Prevent a Stroke

A stroke starts in an unhealthy blood vessel or because of a sticky blood clot. It takes years for blood vessels to become unhealthy. Antioxidants can repair the inside of damaged blood vessels and, more importantly, they can prevent free radicals from tearing the inside of the blood vessels in the first place.

Lab Tests Measure Antioxidants in Food

So far, testing food for antioxidant activity is a big project, requiring a sophisticated lab. The way scientists assess the antioxidant power of different types of food in a laboratory setting is by exposing human blood cells to a type of food and then measuring the health of the human blood cells. While it certainly is fascinating, there is no way to measure or duplicate that process at home!

How Many Antioxidants Should You Get?

Current research is telling us that the more antioxidants you get, the better for stroke prevention. There is no harm associated with antioxidant-rich food. But, they do not contain all of the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy.

So, while increasing your antioxidant intake, it is important to get a well-balanced diet with healthy fats and enough protein. Eating only fruit and vegetables can cause some nutritional deficiencies. Make sure you get enough protein from legumes or fish or lean meat and enough iron through greens or red meat as you increase your antioxidant intake.

1 Source
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  1. Hiartaker A, Knudsen MD, Treti S, Weiderpass E. Consumption of berries, fruits and vegetables and mortality among 10,000 Norwegian men followed for four decades. European Journal of Nutrition. June 2015.

Additional Reading

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.