Paula C. Bickford of the University of South Florida College of Medicine and her colleagues worked with four groups of rats that followed different diets over the course of four weeks. The control group ate regular rat chow, while animals in the other groups ate chow supplemented with one of the following foods: blueberries, spinach or spirulina, a type of algae. At the end of the study period, the researchers induced ischemic strokes--in which a blood clot temporarily cuts of the supply of oxygen to the brain--in the animals. The rats in the three experimental groups all had better outcomes than the control rats did. "I was amazed at the extent of neuro-protection these antioxidant-rich diets provided, Bickford remarks. The size of the stroke was 50 to 75 percent less in rats treated with diets supplemented with blueberries, spinach or spirulina before the stroke.
The rodents that consumed antioxidants also made more progress in their movements after suffering strokes than the control rats did. The team's next experiments will investigate whether animals eating foods rich in antioxidants after they suffer a stroke also exhibit improvements. "The clinical implication is that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption may make a difference in the severity of a stroke," Bickford says. "It could be a readily available, inexpensive and relatively safe way to benefit stroke patients." The findings will appear in the May issue of the journal Experimental Neurology.