Linoleic Acid Reduces Risk of Stroke
Those who consume a diet high in linoleic acid, one of the essential fatty acids, may lower their risk of having a stroke, according to a new study in Stroke (2002;33:2086–93). The study suggests that, by making relatively minor changes in the diet, as many as 600,000 people in the United States per year may be able to prevent a stroke.
Stroke is the third leading killer of Americans, behind heart disease and cancer. However, the incidence of stroke has declined in the last decade, possibly due to a reduction in risk factors. There is reasonably good evidence that the banning of leaded gasoline more than two decades ago is a significant contributor to the reduction in stroke incidence. Some scientists believe that reductions in other risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and alcohol abuse may also be contributing factors to the lower incidence of stroke.
Despite the decline in the number of strokes in the United States, over 160,000 people per year will die as a result of a stroke. While some people may partially or fully recover from a stroke with the aid of drug or physical therapy, many others will have permanent impairment. The type and degree of impairment, which depend on which part of the brain is affected, may include loss of speech, decreased mental function, loss of sensation on the skin, or inability to control specific muscles.
The new study examined the incidence of stroke over a seven-year period in 7,450 Japanese men and women between the ages of 40 and 85; of these participants, 197 had a stroke during the course of the study. Blood samples were collected periodically, to measure levels of several different essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are important nutrients involved in supporting the structure of cells and metabolism.
Those who suffered a stroke were found to have significantly less linoleic acid in their blood than those who did not have a stroke, suggesting that increasing linoleic acid intake may reduce the risk of having a stroke. However, it is possible that the low levels of linoleic acid found in stroke sufferers was due to impaired absorption or increased breakdown of this fatty acid, rather than to a dietary deficiency. Additional studies, in which linoleic acid is given as a supplement, would be needed in order to prove this fatty acid prevents strokes.
Good food sources of linoleic acid include nuts, seeds, whole grains, certain oils (particularly sunflower, safflower, and soybean), and some nutritional supplements (such as evening primrose oil and borage oil). Because linoleic acid and other polyunsaturated fatty acids increase the requirement for vitamin E, many nutritionists recommend that individuals taking linoleic acid also take supplemental vitamin E (such as 100 to 400 IU per day).
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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