For years experts have said what’s good for the heart is good for the head. Now, a new statement from the American Heart
Association and American Stroke Association underlines the findings that the same plaque buildup in the arteries that
causes heart disease can also impact the brain.
“The heart and brain are linked by arteries that supply blood, oxygen and nutrients,” says Philip B. Gorelick, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Stroke Research at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. When plaque builds up and arteries harden, they deprive the heart and brain of blood—and that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The good news: A few simple—and tasty—choices can help protect both your ticker and your cranium.
—Amy Paturel, M.S., M.P.H.
Research shows that eating just one or two (4-ounce) servings of fatty fish—salmon, mackerel, rainbow trout or sardines—each week can slash your risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent. In another study, researchers tracked almost 80,000 women for 14 years and found that those who ate any type of fish at least twice a week had a 51 percent lower risk of thrombotic stroke (a type caused by clogged arteries) than those who ate fish less than once a month. A bonus: “The omega-3 fats in fish help reduce inflammation in the arterial walls and keep blood flowing to the brain,” explains Ralph Felder, M.D., Ph.D., internist and author of The Bonus Years Diet.
Red wine contains compounds called polyphenols that help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Research suggests one polyphenol—resveratrol—may also improve blood flow to the brain and reduce stroke risk. “Resveratrol makes the blood cells less sticky and thus thins out the blood, which prevents dangerous blood clots,” says Felder. Despite the health boons, if you don’t drink, you shouldn’t start.
People with high blood pressure found that for every serving of fruits and vegetables eaten, their blood flow improved (and, thus, blood pressure lowered), according to a study in the journal Circulation. In another study of adults over age 65, those who had about three servings of vegetables each day showed 40 percent less mental decline on cognitive tests than people who ate few or no vegetables. There’s another reason to load up on produce—potassium, a nutrient abundant in bananas, baked potatoes, tomatoes and artichokes, may counteract the harmful effect of salt in our diets by helping to prevent artery walls from thickening, thus reducing blood pressure.