Research in the past has linked a diet high in protein to a reduced risk of obesity and keeping a healthy weight, but could it also improve our cardiovascular health? A recent study published in the American Academy of Neurology medical journal, Neurology, revealed that people adhering to a diet with around 20 grams of protein per day are less likely to suffer a stroke compared to those who consume a diet low in protein.

"The amount of protein that led to the reduced risk was moderate — equal to 20 grams per day," said Dr. Xinfeng Liu, lead author from Nanjing University School of Medicine in Nanjing, China, in a statement. "Additional, larger studies are needed before definitive recommendations can be made, but the evidence is compelling." Liu and his colleagues investigated existing research that assessed a high-protein diet’s relationship with stroke risk. The data included seven studies with a total of 254,489 participants, who were followed for an average of 14 years.

After accounting for risk factors that could attribute to a stroke, including smoking and high cholesterol, researchers found that people with the highest amount of protein in their diet were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke compared to those with lower amounts of protein in their diet. Findings also revealed that for every additional 20 grams of protein per day people added to their diet, they were able to lower their stroke risk by 26 percent.

Although the research team noted that a reduced risk of stroke was associated more with animal protein compared to vegetable protein, the study did not support the consumption of protein from red meat. Instead Liu suggested fish as a healthy protein source seeing as two of the studies were based in Japan where people are more likely to consume fish rather than red meat. Liu attributed protein’s role in reducing stroke risk to its effect on lowering blood pressure.  

"If everyone's protein intake were at this level, that would translate to more than 1.4 million fewer deaths from stroke each year worldwide, plus a decreased level of disability from stroke," Liu added. "These results indicate that stroke risk may be reduced by replacing red meat with other protein sources, such as fish.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is considered the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming a life every four minutes. Around 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year making it a major cause of adult disability. Maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol use, and a healthy diet are all recommended prevention strategies for avoiding a stroke.