Does Antioxidant Intake Impact Stroke and Heart Disease Risk?
Powerful antioxidants exist as vitamins and minerals in the colorful plant-based foods. With fruit and vegetable consumption suggested in a heart healthy diet, does antioxidant intake impact stroke and heart disease risk?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with stroke ranking not far behind in third place. When combined, heart disease and stroke account for $500 million in health care costs. Although the monetary costs are astronomical, their associated risk factors can fortunately be reduced and altered. While risk factors such as age, gender, and family history are unchangeable, a person's chosen lifestyle and diet can minimize the risk of heart disease and stroke. A heart healthy diet reduces saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt while increasing fruits and vegetables. Powerful antioxidants exist as vitamins and minerals in the colorful plant-based foods. With fruit and vegetable consumption suggested in a heart healthy diet, does antioxidant intake impact stroke and heart disease risk?
The body is complex and amazing; filled with reactions, mechanisms, and cascades of events taking place every second. All of the processes keep the body fighting and functioning. Although the body fights hard to keep itself healthy, its efforts can be enhanced by antioxidants. Specifically, vitamin E and beta carotene are notorious antioxidants. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach along with legumes and whole grains contain significant amounts of vitamin E. Beta carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and can be converted into an antioxidant or vitamin A for other body processes. Best sources include dark orange and red vegetables and fruits such as carrots and oranges.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction in the body that has the ability to produce free radicals. Free radicals do play an integral role in biological processes such as the killing harmful bacteria. However, excess free radicals produced from high sugar and fat intake can result in cell damage. When antioxidants are present, they can destroy destructive free radicals and protect body cells.
Antioxidants Role in Heart Disease and Stroke
Like previously mentioned, antioxidants help to protect and fight against cellular damage. Such protection is thought to prevent disease, including heart disease and cancer. Oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein or "bad") cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis, or fatty plaque build-up on artery walls. If too much is built up, blood flow can be slowed down or block the heart.
Conflicting research suggests that increased intake of vitamin E may actually increase the risk of a certain type of stroke. The hemorrhagic stroke risk was suggested to increase by 22 percent, while the risk of ischemic stroke decreased by 10 percent. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures while an ischemic stroke is the result of an obstruction, or blockage, within a blood vessel. Although vitamin E is essential for optimal health and may impact stroke occurrence, it is recommended to maintain balance of the vitamin and not overdo its intake, especially in supplement form.
The Ultimate Impact
Although antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, other proven methods can and should be implemented. Such approaches include smoking cessation, increasing physical activity, controlling high blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and achieving and maintaining an appropriate body weight. Obtaining a lipid profile may help guide further goals and treatment regarding heart disease. Suggested lipid goals consist of LDL cholesterol less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), HDL (high-density lipoprotein or "good") cholesterol greater than 40 mg/dL and total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL. A total body approach to health can reduce the impact of stroke and heart disease risk.
Antioxidants, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene, and Cardiovascular Disease. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/services/vitamin_e