Wednesday, July 21, 1999

Animal fat
may be good for
stroke patients

A Honolulu study finds that
a small amount may
head off dementia

By Helen Altonn


Maybe a lot of animal fat isn't good for your health, but some may be beneficial after a stroke, according to a Honolulu study released today.

A traditional Western diet higher in animal fat and protein than a typical Asian diet may lower the risk of stroke-related dementia, researchers found.

"It's not just a high fat diet that's protective, but it seems to be a combination of some animal fat and some animal protein and some carbohydrate," said Dr. G. Webster Ross of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Honolulu.

The study is the first to identify a relationship between dietary preference and stroke-related dementia, Ross said.

However, he said he isn't ready to make any recommendations in terms of diet. "We're looking at our data to try to determine what combination of nutrients seems to be good for people."

The VA doctor led the study as part of the Honolulu Heart Program at Kuakini Medical Center. The findings will appear in tomorrow's issue of Neurology.

The Honolulu Heart Program began on Oahu in 1965 to study coronary heart disease, stroke and deaths in 8,006 Japanese-American men. About 3,000 are still living, Ross said.

Researchers have been able to compare the immigrant group to peers in Japan, keeping genetic factors constant while looking at environmental and cultural differences.

The team began looking at dementia in 1991 in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Aging.

Vascular dementia involves deterioration of emotional and cognitive abilities resulting from stroke. It is the second leading cause of dementia in the United States, after Alzheimer's disease.

Ross said the researchers compared 68 men with vascular dementia with about 3,000 who did not have dementia or stroke and 106 who did suffer strokes but had no dementia.

When examined, the men were between ages 71 and 93.

They were asked in 1965 whether they preferred a Western or Asian diet, Ross said.

Examined 25 years later for dementia, those saying they preferred a Westernized diet had the lowest prevalence of vascular dementia, he said.

The study also showed people with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure had a higher risk of developing vascular dementia.

"It's safe to say if you can control blood pressure, heart disease and blood pressure, you can lower the risk for vascular dementia," Ross said.

Supplemental vitamin E also provided protection against vascular dementia, the researchers found.

Dr. Helen Petrovitch, a co-researcher, said the Asian diet for men in the study might include a lot of vegetables and rice and maybe some fish.

In other words, it would be low in animal fat and protein and high in complex carbohydrates.

The usual Western diet is higher in animal fat and protein, from beef or pork for instance, with less rice or other complex carbohydrates, Ross said.

He said it's probably still true that eating more vegetables and less meat is healthier. "But a certain amount of animal fat and protein is probably healthy. We don't know what that 'certain amount' is."

Studies of animals indicate higher amounts of animal fat and protein in the diet may contribute to more stable blood vessel walls in the brain, the researchers noted.

But too much animal fat and protein contributes to heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis, Ross pointed out.

The research team also included Drs. Lon White, Kamal Masaki, David Curb, Katsushiro Yano, Patricia Blanchette, Beatriz Rodriguez, C.Y. Li, D.J. Foley and R. Havlik of Washington, D.C.

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