Uh-oh. If you haven't been heeding Popeye's advice and eating your spinach, now's the time to start. Research fresh from Imperial College London, has found a possible link between iron deficiency and the likelihood of a stroke, thanks to a lack of iron making blood 'sticky,' thus fostering stroke- friendly conditions in the body.

Observing a group of people enlarged blood vessels in the lungs - a hereditary condition that leaves sufferers more predisposed to strokes, as the vessels fail to filter blood clots - researcher examined platelets to ascertain the role of iron deficiency in stroke occurrence. With data collated from more than 500 such candidates, scientists determined that those with iron deficiencies developed 'stickier' platelets that were more likely to clot, and, by virtue of the enlarged blood vessel passages in the lungs, shift to the brain to prompt an ischaemic stroke. An ischaemic stroke occurs once the blood clot has reached the brain, restricting arterial blood flow. Hallmarks of a stroke are varied; though include sudden numbness - particularly on either the left or right sides of the body - difficulty speaking, loss of vision, and poor balance.  

The study supports propositions that insufficient iron disorders (such as anemia, Crohn's disease, and celiac disease) could lead to enhanced risk of strokes, which was previously unsupported by research. However, the research team indicates that more work is needed to conclusively prove the link. "Since platelets in the blood stick together more if you are short of iron, we think this may explain why being short of iron can lead to strokes, though much more research will be needed to prove this link," said lead researcher Dr. Claire Sholvin, of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.  "There are many additional steps from a clot blocking a blood vessel to the final stroke developing, so it is still unclear just how important sticky platelets are to the overall process. We would certainly encourage more studies to investigate this link."

Next on the agenda, naturally, is testing if raising blood iron levels diminishes the risk of a stroke. "The next step is to test whether we can reduce high-risk patients' chances of having a stroke by treating their iron deficiency. We will be able to look at whether their platelets become less sticky," Sholvin added. Indeed, with more than 30% of people worldwide suffering from anemia, the threat of a stroke remains a real possibility for millions.

According to the American Red Cross, iron-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, and several vegetables, including spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, and peas. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute also recommends iron supplements as prescribed by a doctor if your diet doesn't consist of enough iron-rich foods.  

The study was published in Plos One

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