Stroke is a sudden and life-threatening event in which an artery supplying the brain with blood is blocked (ischaemic stroke) or a blood vessel in the brain bursts (haemorrhagic stroke). Both result in a part of the brain suddenly losing some or all of its blood supply which leads to a rapid loss of brain function and requires immediate medical care.

Stroke symptoms may include loss of the ability to move and feel, usually on one side of the body, loss of speech, vision, inability to understand or react and dizziness. How much damage a stroke causes depends on how long brain cells remain without blood supply, the size of the affected area and the extent of the blood vessel blockage or damage. Some people recover fully, some partially, whilst for others a stroke is fatal. 

There are also mini-strokes where the damage isn’t so big and they can cause only mild symptoms. However, they are dangerous too because if the person doesn’t seek medical care, their health may further deteriorate. 

There are many risk factors for stroke, including advanced age, high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood fats and cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, smoking, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, family history, chronic kidney disease, obesity, coronary heart disease, sleep apnoea and depression. Some of these are out of our control, such as age or genetics, yet most of them are linked to lifestyle.

High blood pressure is among the top risk factors and directly linked to diet. If you have high cholesterol levels, it means you have many small, sticky cholesterol particles circulating in the blood – these particles stick to the walls of blood vessels (particularly arteries, the blood vessels carrying blood away from the heart) and can form thick layers called cholesterol plaques. This leads to the narrowing and hardening of the arteries – atherosclerosis – and it increases blood pressure because the same volume of blood has to squeeze through a narrower space. There’s also the risk that one of the plaques will tear off and block a blood vessel in the brain, causing a stroke. Atherosclerosis in the brain is one of the major causes of stroke worldwide.

A diet high in animal fat and protein (meat, high-fat dairy products), and added sugars increases your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and also the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease – all these are major risk factors for stroke.

On the other hand, a vegan diet based on fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans, lentils, soya), wholegrains and nuts and seeds, with the addition of vitamin B12, lowers your risk of all these risk factors. Across scientific studies, vegans consistently have lower blood pressure than other diet groups. A healthy vegan diet can also reverse atherosclerosis and lower your blood pressure.Nevertheless, high salt intake can increase your blood pressure even if you have a super-healthy diet so be careful!