First author Susanne Rautiainen, a Ph.D. student at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to neutralize them. It leads to inflammation, blood vessel damage and stiffening, Rautiainen said.
Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids and flavonoids can inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation by scavenging the free radicals, and can help improve endothelial function and reduce blood clotting, blood pressure and inflammation.
"Eating antioxidant-rich foods may reduce your risk of stroke by inhibiting oxidative stress and inflammation," Rautiainen said in a statement. "This means people should eat more foods such as fruits and vegetables that contribute to total antioxidant capacity -- the amount of antioxidants eaten."
The researchers used the Swedish Mammography Cohort to identify 31,035 heart disease-free women and 5,680 women with a history of heart disease in two counties -- ages 49-83.
The study, published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, found higher total antioxidant capacity was related to lower stroke rates in women without cardiovascular disease.
Women with history of cardiovascular disease in the highest three quartiles of dietary total antioxidant capacity had a statistically significant 46 percent-to-57 percent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared with those in the lowest quartile, the study said.
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