Women with high blood pressure (hypertension) who consume a diet very low in animal fat and protein may have a higher risk of a type of stroke caused by uncontrolled bleeding in the brain, according to results of a study from Harvard Medical School in Boston.
This finding does not mean that people should abandon an effort to cut the fat from their diet, a step known to greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. However the researchers note "a very low intake of animal fat and protein, as consumed by large populations in Asia and by some persons in Western countries, may not be optimal for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease."
Researchers looked at data collected in the Nurses' Health Study, including more than 85,000 women. When the women were divided into five groups according to the amount of animal fat in their diet, the women with the lowest fat intake faced the greatest risk of stroke due to hemorrhage. In the US, about 20% of all strokes are due to uncontrolled bleeding in the brain while the remainder are due to a blocked artery (usually blood clot-related) that results in a reduced blood supply to the brain.
Lower consumption of animal protein also tended to bring a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, the authors report. The researchers note that the link between very low animal fat consumption and hemorrhagic stroke was strongest among women with high blood pressure. Those women had a risk of hemorrhagic stroke 3.7 times higher than women with higher fat intake.
It is well known that hypertension is a key risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke. The researchers believe that individuals with a very low intake of saturated fat may develop some kind of structural impairment of the arteries, and this makes them more vulnerable to stroke if they have high blood pressure.
Some experts believe that these findings may simply represent a chance finding, rather than an actual cause-and-effect relationship.
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