12 January - 20 June 2016

The effect of protein intake on stroke risk

18 June 14

According to a meta-analysis conducted by a team from Nanjing University Medical School, a diet containing at least 20g/day of protein may lead to lowered risk of a stroke. Strokes are a major cause of death and disability all over the world (especially in the West), so primary prevention is a pressing concern. Research has demonstrated that lifestyle factors such as weight, diet and stress are all important in stroke prevention but, up until now, research into the effect of protein consumption on stroke has proved inconclusive. This meta-analysis, therefore, sought to extract meaningful data about a potential relationship from a collection of seven prospective studies comprising 254,489 participants in total.

When all the risk factors were adjusted for, data analysis led to the following observations:

  • Protein intake was independently associated with a decreased risk of a stroke.
  • A greater effect in lowering the risk of a stroke was seen with animal protein compared to vegetable (29% vs 12% respectively). The authors noted, however, that the narrower range of intakes in grams of the vegetable protein data made the observation of a statistically significant association more challenging.
  • A dose response relationship was observed. Each additional 20g/day of protein ingested was associated with a 26% lowering of relative risk of stroke.
  • When considering the different protein sources used across the range of studies, it was observed that fish consumption particularly was linked with decreased stroke risk whilst red meat consumption was associated with increased risk. The authors suggested therefore that replacement of red meat in the diet with fish, or other protein sources, might be indicated as a strategy for lowering stroke risk

The authors posited several possible explanations for the protective effect of dietary protein. Lowered blood pressure due to the presence of the amino acid arginine (which enhances levels of the endogenous vasodilator nitric oxide) was one suggestion; another was that high-protein diets have significantly lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, and non-high- density lipoprotein cholesterol compared with a carbohydrate diet. Another possibility to consider is that the effect comes not from an inherent property of protein, but from its increased consumption replacing other, potentially harmful and stroke risk-increasing, foodstuffs. The meta-analysis shows some striking correlations between dietary protein intake and lowered stroke risk, but human trials will be needed to draw definitive conclusions.[ScienceDaily, Telegraph, ITV]

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