Eating citrus fruits can be considered a marker of healthy living, and may lessen the risk of stroke, according to research published Thursday in the journal Stroke. But some experts said the numbers in the study didn’t quite add up.
The findings were part of the Nurses’ Health Study, which included nearly 70,000 women who were followed for 14 years, who reported on their fruit and vegetable intake every four years.
Those who reported consuming the greatest amount of citrus fruit had a 19 percent lower chance of having an ischemic stroke, which blocks blood flow to the brain.
The researchers looked for a compound commonly found in citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, called flavonoids.
The study did not specify how much citrus fruit a woman needed to consume a day to reach the purported flavonoid level of protection. Neither did it conclude that the more citrus fruit one ate, the less the chance of stroke.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating two to four servings of any type of fruit a day.
While the risk of stroke was lower in those who ate citrus fruit, not all of the women’s flavonoid consumption came from citrus fruit. Flavonoids are also found in other types of fruit, vegetables, tea, dark chocolate and red wine.
The study also couldn’t conclude that the lower risk of stroke was necessarily due to the flavonoid found in citrus fruits.
“This study adds absolutely nothing to the relationship between fruit and strokes,” said ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. “The conclusions of the study go beyond the data.”
Researchers noted that the women who consumed the most flavonoids smoked less, exercised more and ate better, suggesting they already had an overall healthier lifestyle.
“The things we know that are important for stroke prevention remain,” said Besser.
So researchers looked deeper into a type of flavonoid called flavanones, which are mainly found in citrus juices, oranges and grapefruits.
Researchers are more likely to find a connection the deeper they dig into the data, but the findings are not necessarily significant for women, said Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Previous studies have suggested that vitamin C and potassium, both found in citrus fruits, can also protect against heart disease and stroke, which may have also been figured into the findings.
“It is impossible to disentangle the relative influence of all the constituents of citrus fruit,” the researchers wrote.
While many Americans get a majority of their daily fruit intake from juices, many experts advise bypassing the juices because of the added sugar and going straight to the source. Even though flavonoids are found in the juice of the fruit, the high number of calories can offset the nutritional value of the juice, Ayoob said.
“You also lose all the fiber when you go to juice,” said Besser.