Most people in the United States eat plenty of protein and this is a good thing as protein is crucial for building and maintaining strong bones and muscles. Diets that are rich in protein can also apparently help in reducing disability and death risks as researchers of a new study found an association between the amount of protein in the diet and the odds for stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of disability among American adults.

For the new study "Quantitative analysis of dietary protein intake and stroke risk" which was published in the journal Neurology on June 11, Xinfeng Liu, from the Nanjing University School of Medicine in Jiangsu Province in China, and colleagues reviewed seven studies which followed 254,489 adult participants for an average of 14 years to assess the association between dietary protein intake and risks of stroke.

The researchers found that individuals who had the most protein in their diet had 20 percent lesser risks to have a stroke during the duration of the study compared with those who had the lowest amount of protein in their diet. The researchers also observed that adding 20 grams of protein to the diet daily could lead to a 26 percent drop in stroke risks.

It isn't clear though how protein intake affects a person's likelihood to have a stroke. Liu said that studies show that protein has favorable effects on the blood pressure and that a high protein diet significantly reduces triglycerides, total cholesterol, and non-HDL cholesterol.

Liu also said that different protein sources have different impact on a person's chances of having a stroke. Consuming fish, for instance, is linked with the lowest risks for stroke while previous research have found an association between high intake of red meat and increased stroke risks.

Liu said that replacing red meat in the diet with other sources of protein such as fish may help in reducing stroke risks. "Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and some other nutritional elements including protein that may protect against stroke," Liu said.

Vegetable protein also appeared to be less protective against stroke compared with animal protein albeit participants in the study who ate more protein tend to get them from animal sources making it hard for the researchers to determine an association.

Arturo Tamayo, from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg who specializes in stroke prevention, said that although diet can influence stroke risks, there are other factors that may also affect a person's likelihood to have a stroke such as age, genetic predisposition to have high levels of cholesterol and medical conditions such as heart disease.

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