08/16/2011 08:15 am ET Updated Oct 16, 2011

Olive Oil Cuts Stroke Risk?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States. More common in women, strokes affect close to 800,000 Americans each year killing nearly 150,000. While strokes typically occur in people over the age of 65, they can occur at any age. Strokes are categorized as either bleeding into the brain or a blockage in blood supply, known as an ischemic stroke. The latter are overwhelmingly more common, compromising about 87 percent of all stroke events.

These days we all have the opportunity to read about lifestyle factors and how they can influence our risk for various health issues from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. But aside the increased risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation that everyone seems to know about since the arrival of a new drug on the market, the idea that lifestyle choices can help reduce a person's risk for stroke is getting precious little attention.

One nutritional approach gaining a lot of attention because of its important role in protecting the heart -- as well as reducing the risk for diabetes and various forms of cancer -- is the so-called Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables while low in sodium. It is also enriched with olive oil, high in antioxidants as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Adherence to this diet has been associated not only with a substantial risk reduction for heart attack but a reduced risk for dying from the experience if it does occur. But what is not so widely known is the fact that the Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced risk of stroke. And as it turns out, perhaps the most important component of the diet -- at least as it relates to stroke risk -- is the high consumption of olive oil.

In a recent article appearing in the journal Neurology, French researchers published a report detailing their study of over 7,000 adult participants. The study compared risk for developing a stroke compared to consumption of olive oil. The results were dramatic. There were 148 strokes in the study group during the five-year study and the risk of stroke was reduced by an astounding 41 percent in those consuming the most olive oil compared with those consuming the least.

Usually authors of such research papers downplay the implications of their results, but these authors felt they were on firm ground when they concluded, "Showing a strong association between intensive olive oil use and lower stroke incidence, our study suggests a novel approach of dietary recommendations to prevent stroke occurrence in elderly populations."

Yes, a novel approach indeed. That is, making a dietary recommendation as opposed to simply authoring yet another report advocating the use of yet another drug. We are seeing revolutionary changes in the works appearing in our most well-respected journals, finally giving dietary and lifestyle choices their share of the spotlight as they relate to our health and longevity.