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Med Hypotheses. 2003 Sep;61(3):323-34.

IGF-I activity may be a key determinant of stroke risk--a cautionary lesson for vegans.

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Pantox Laboratories, San Diego, California 92109, USA.


IGF-I acts on vascular endothelium to activate nitric oxide synthase, thereby promoting vascular health; there is reason to believe that this protection is especially crucial to the cerebral vasculature, helping to ward off thrombotic strokes. IGF-I may also promote the structural integrity of cerebral arteries, thereby offering protection from hemorrhagic stroke. These considerations may help to explain why tallness is associated with low stroke risk, whereas growth hormone deficiency increases stroke risk--and why age-adjusted stroke mortality has been exceptionally high in rural Asians eating quasi-vegan diets, but has been declining steadily in Asia as diets have become progressively higher in animal products. There is good reason to suspect that low-fat vegan diets tend to down-regulate systemic IGF-I activity; this effect would be expected to increase stroke risk in vegans. Furthermore, epidemiology suggests that low serum cholesterol, and possibly also a low dietary intake of saturated fat--both characteristic of those adopting low-fat vegan diets--may also increase stroke risk. Vegans are thus well advised to adopt practical countermeasures to minimize stroke risk--the most definitive of which may be salt restriction. A high potassium intake, aerobic exercise training, whole grains, moderate alcohol consumption, low-dose aspirin, statin or policosanol therapy, green tea, and supplementation with fish oil, taurine, arginine, and B vitamins--as well as pharmacotherapy of hypertension if warranted--are other practical measures for lowering stroke risk. Although low-fat vegan diets may markedly reduce risk for coronary disease, diabetes, and many common types of cancer, an increased risk for stroke may represent an 'Achilles heel'. Nonetheless, vegans have the potential to achieve a truly exceptional 'healthspan' if they face this problem forthrightly by restricting salt intake and taking other practical measures that promote cerebrovascular health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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