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Many people have a misconception that coffee is bad for the health. Numerous studies have shown that, contrary to popular belief, coffee has tons of health benefits. Coffee contains beneficial antioxidants that can help fight aging, promote weight loss, improve focus and concentration, and prevent diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson.

Coffee gains a bad reputation because many people rely on second-hand information and word-of-mouth, but there are several medical studies that have analyzed and determined the effects of coffee on our body.

One interesting finding about coffee is that it can help lower your risk for stroke. How? Let’s find out!

Understanding stroke

When we hear about stroke, we often associate it with a heart attack. But stroke and heart attack are two different things.

The World Heart Federation states that every year 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke. Nearly six million die and another five million are left permanently disabled. Stroke is the second leading cause of disability after dementia. Globally, stroke is the second leading cause of death for people above the age of 60 years, and the fifth leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 59 years old70.

In many developed countries, the incidence of stroke is declining, even though the actual number of strokes are increasing because of the aging population.  In the still-developing world, however, the incidence of stroke is increasing.

The National Stroke Foundation gives an enlightening description about stroke. A stroke is, medically speaking, a “brain attack”. It is a very treacherous condition. Even the healthiest person can experience a stroke. It can happen anytime, anywhere. A stroke happens when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. As a result, the brain cells are deprived of oxygen. They die. When brain cells die during a stroke, all abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost. One can lose memory and muscle control. That’s why we often think that a stroke is caused by a heart attack because the person loses consciousness.

Effects of stroke vary from one patient to another. It depends on the where the stroke occurs and how much area of the brain is damaged. A minor stroke can cause temporary weakness of an arm or leg. After some weeks or a few months of therapy, motor control is restored. A major stroke can paralyze one side of the body or cause the loss of the ability to speak. In many cases, stroke survivors have to deal with a form of disability.

According to the foundation, here are the current US statistical reports on stroke:

  • Each year nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke.
  • A stroke happens every 40 seconds.
  • Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke.
  • Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.
  • Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S.

There are three types of stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke

A brain aneurysm burst or a weakened blood vessel leak (hemorrhagic) is one of two types of stroke.  While the least common of the two major types of stroke, it most often results in death.

Ischemic stroke

A blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot (ischemic) is one type of stroke.

Transient ischemic attack

When blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time, also called transient ischemic attack (TIA), it can mimic stroke-like symptoms. These appear and last less than 24 hours before disappearing.

The following conditions can increase the risk of stroke, according to WebMD.

  • High blood pressure: Doctors call it hypertension and it is one of the leading causes of stroke.
  • Smoking: Nicotine increases blood pressure. Cigarette smoke causes a fatty buildup in your main neck artery. It also thickens your blood and makes it more likely to clot.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes itself also damages your blood vessels, which makes a stroke more likely. If you have a stroke when your blood sugar levels are high, the injury to your brain is greater.
  • Heart diseases: Existing heart conditions can cause irregular heartbeat and can affect the flow of blood in the brain. This is one of the leading cause of stroke among elderly people.
  • Obesity: If you’re a man with a waist bigger than 40 inches or a woman with a belly size above 35 inches, your stroke risk may be especially high.
  • Family History: Stroke can run in families. If family members have a history of heart problems and diabetes, the risk of a stroke is higher.

Now we know that stroke affects the brain and not the heart, per se. Coffee is a brain stimulant. Does the caffeine in coffee help in reducing the risk of stroke?

Coffee and stroke: what medical studies reveal

A study featured in a 2009 issue of Circulation shows that coffee consumption lowered the risk of stroke in women without any history of stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. However, the study also pointed out that factors such as age, smoking status, body mass index, level of physical activity and diet also affected circulation and risk of stroke.

A recent study published in the journal Stroke found that consuming one cup of coffee per day can decrease stroke risk by up to 20 percent. Researchers followed 82,369 men and women in Japan over the course of 13 years and found that those who drank coffee regularly were less likely to suffer a stroke.

Related studies even suggest that the more coffee, the better. Swedish researchers followed nearly 35,000 women from the ages of 49 to 83 for 10 years and found that those who drank two or more cups of coffee every day decreased stroke risk by nearly a quarter.

A prospective study of 26,556 male Finnish smokers reported that the relative risk of developing a non-hemorrhagic stroke was significantly reduced by 12 percent with the consumption of 4-5 cups of coffee per day. The risk was further reduced to 23 percent in the heaviest consumers, those who drank 6 cups a day, compared to those who drank less than 2 cups per day.

The result was extended to women during a study where 34,670 women were followed up prospectively. Coffee consumption of 2-5 cups per day was associated with a significant 22 to 25 percent risk reduction of total stroke.

The prospective Nurses’ Health Study of 83,076 women also reported a 20 percent reduced risk of stroke with the consumption of 2-4 cups coffee per day, compared to one cup per month. The association was stronger among never and past smokers, with a risk reduction of 43 percent with 4 cups a day. Interestingly, other drinks containing caffeine, such as tea and caffeinated soft drinks, were not associated with stroke.

A 2011 meta-analysis including eleven prospective studies, with 10,003 cases of stroke among 479,689 participants, found that moderate coffee consumption may reduce the risk of stroke.

Better with coffee

Researchers are still conducting clinical and observational studies to pinpoint the significant content in coffee that decreases the risk of stroke. Some researchers think that coffee has the ability to reduce inflammation due to the chlorogenic acid found in coffee beans. This antioxidant has anti-inflammatory properties. Others infer that caffeine improves insulin resistance that can help prevent stroke.

However, remember that drinking coffee is not the only reason that can prevent stroke and other diseases. Coffee is not a miracle, cure-all drink. Despite its many health benefits, too much coffee can affect the body negatively.

Medical experts suggest that average coffee consumption of two to four cups a day is enough to maximize the benefits of coffee. When you drink coffee, avoid too many additives like syrups, sugar, and creamer. Stick to black brewed coffee or add natural sweeteners like stevia and agave honey. If you want to add milk, try soy milk or low-fat milk.

You see, life is better with coffee. Aside from putting you on your toes in the morning, coffee’s natural ingredients contain important antioxidants that help the body become strong and healthy. Don’t worry, coffee will not cause a stroke. With moderate consumption, it can significantly reduce your risk of diseases.