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Low-fat dairy foods can prevent strokes

Published June 23. 2012 09:01AM

Guess what? There is no way to escape aging. You are of the nature to grow old and die.

Both old age and death are inevitable.

While that's hardly a heartwarming thought, it certainly is true. And it certainly is something you should think about even if thinking about it depresses you.

Because thinking about it just might get you up off your butt and exercising, get you eating good things instead of junk. Yes, I know some will read this intro and do the opposite because there's no winning a war against inevitability, but I hope that way of thinking is not for you.

I hope you focus on winning the smaller daily battles of living rather than the inescapability of losing the large last one. I hope you become motivated by the evidence found each week in this column, proving that aging can indeed be impeded, death can undoubtedly be deferred.

You can achieve both by avoiding a stroke. And the good news is you can control the factors that produce nine out of 10 of them.

A study done at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and published in The Lancet in 2010 used the written responses of 6,000 people, 3,000 who had had strokes and 3,000 who had not, to determine that. The study, which was first presented at the World Congress of Cardiology, established that 90 percent of strokes result not from bad genetics but from poor health habits.

Of the 10 health problems that account for this 90 percent, five of them a poor diet, a fat stomach, a lack of physical activity, smoking, and excessive consumption of alcohol are purely personal lifestyle choices. In other words, you have total control of them.

While the other five high blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol, diabetes, heart problems, and stress and depression can have a genetic component, it's far more likely that lifestyle choices produce them. A study done years ago, for example, found that in its early stages 91 percent of Type 2 diabetes could be eradicated by healthier eating and heartier workouts.

Similarly, the research from McMaster University found that eating a poor diet increased the odds of developing a stroke by 35 percent. Conversely, being physically active, which the McMaster study determined was four or more hours of vigorous activity a week decreased the odds by 30 percent.

Considering the nature of a stroke, the interruption of blood supply to the brain ultimately causing brain cells to die and possibly cause paralysis or death, doing things to reduce the risk of it makes sense, especially small things.

Like consuming low-fat dairy foods instead of high-fat ones.

Susan Larsson, Ph.D. and the lead author of a Swedish study published this April in Stroke, theorizes that the vitamin D in low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese reduces high blood pressure, one of the 10 causes listed in the McMaster study.

The replacement of high-fat foods helps as well. Consuming fewer calories keeps fat from accumulating around the gut, a cause of stroke determined by the McMaster research. Consuming fewer calories of fat, much of it saturated, keeps plaque from accumulating in the arteries and jeopardizing heart health.

In the Swedish study, nearly 75,000 adults free of heart disease, stroke, and cancer completed 96-item food and beverage questionnaires.Ten years later, a follow-up study was done.

The follow-up found that those who consumed low-fat dairy foods as opposed to high-fat dairy foods had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke and a 13 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke, the type that results from a blocked artery or a blood vessel bursting.

If 12 and 13 percent don't seem significant, you're forgetting a few things: first, that making other relatively minor changes, like avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, continues to reduce the odds; second, that the complications that arise from a stroke if you survive it are the sorts that significantly diminish your quality of life, so you should do everything in your power to avoid one.

According to Mayo, the sustained lack of blood flow that often occurs during a stroke can cause a partial loss of muscle movement even if full paralysis doesn't occur.

Talking and swallowing can be difficult after a stroke. Collecting your thoughts, a condition called aphasia, also can result, as well as significant memory loss.

While old age is inevitable, developing infirmities in your advancing years is not. By taking proper care of yourself now, you can take proper care of yourself into your 90s.

I know, for instance, of a man still lifting weights at 99 and doing virtually all daily tasks for himself.

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