Whole-Grain Foods Help Prevent Stroke
You Just Might Live Longer if You Eat the Right Kind of Bread . . . or Pancakes

Got caryopsis? It sounds like a disease, doesn't it? Fear not, however, for it's just a botanist's term for grain, as in "a small, dry, one-seeded fruit of a cereal grass, having the fruit and the seed walls united; also, the fruits of cereal grasses, especially after having been harvested, considered as a group."

From the beginnings of agriculture, at least 9000 years ago, until very recently, human beings subsisted on the grains, the whole grains, and (sometimes) nothing but the grains they were able to grow. From stone-ground flour, which contains everything in the whole grain - the inner germ layer, the outer bran layer, and all the starch, proteins, oils, vitamins, minerals, etc. - people all over the world made highly nutritious bread, the staff of life.

The late nineteenth century, however, saw the introduction of high-temperature, steel-roller milling and chemical bleaching of grains to make refined white flour, which became hugely popular, especially in the United States. From it came an avalanche of soft white bread that resembled cotton batting more than actual food. By removing the wheat germ and the bran (which were used as livestock feed - lucky animals!), the manufacturers eliminated dozens of nutrients, as well as all the fiber, and we humans were left with pap masquerading as the staff of life. Big mistake.

When an awareness of this nutritional fiasco finally sank in, the federal government responded by mandating that flour be enriched by including a few essential vitamins and minerals to make up for the deficiencies. This was an undeniable boon to public health - up to a point. The catch was that the enrichment fell far short of compensating for the nutritional loss, but the hype seduced most people into thinking that refined-grain foods were now healthful again, and so, as the Aussies say, "No worries." Big mistake #2.

"Healthful" is a relative concept, and it turns out - as some voices in the wilderness had been crying all along - that our attempts to duplicate the qualities of whole grains through chemical augmentation of what amounts to their dregs (refined flour) have been a failure. (A single whole grain of wheat, by the way, produces at least 20,000 particles of flour.) As usual, messing with Mother Nature was a foolish exercise in hubris.

Scientists have known for decades that whole-grain foods, which are rich in dietary fiber as well as dozens of nutrients, help prevent cardiovascular disease and colon cancer, as well as diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and other disorders. Now a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health have investigated the role of dietary whole grains in reducing the risk of ischemic stroke - stroke caused by obstruction of a blood vessel in the brain (as opposed to hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel).1

The pathologic mechanisms of the two kinds of stroke are different, and the researchers focused on ischemic stroke (by far the more common of the two kinds) because that was where the benefits of whole grains were more likely to be realized. For their test subjects, they drew on the famous Nurses' Health Study, a massive, long-term epidemiological study of the health of 121,700 female registered nurses who were 30 to 55 years of age at the time of their enrollment in the study in 1976.

The researchers used 1984 as their baseline year, after sending the nurses extremely detailed questionnaires regarding their diet, lifestyle, and medical history. Those with previously diagnosed diabetes mellitus, angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease were eliminated from the whole-grain study, leaving 75,521 women aged 38 to 63 for evaluation. They were then monitored closely for 12 years, until 1996.

In terms of consumption of whole-grain foods, the women were divided into five quintiles, or equal-size groups, ranging from the bottom quintile (0-20%, with a median daily intake of 0.13 serving) to the top quintile (80-100%, with a median daily intake of 2.70 servings). Because many diet and lifestyle factors can affect the risk of stroke (some increasing it, such as smoking and lack of exercise, and some decreasing it, such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables), the researchers went to great lengths to control for those factors, using sophisticated statistical methods.

The questionnaires showed, e.g., that the women who consumed the most whole-grain foods also had many other healthful habits, such as smoking and drinking the least, exercising the most, eating the most fruits and vegetables and carbohydrates, eating the least fat and cholesterol, and taking the most vitamin and mineral supplements and postmenopausal hormones. Various statistical tests showed that the researchers' efforts to control for these and other factors succeeded in minimizing any bias that might otherwise have been introduced into the analysis of the relationship between dietary whole grains and ischemic stroke.

That analysis showed a strong inverse relationship, i.e., the more whole grains consumed, the less the risk of ischemic stroke, independently of known cardiovascular risk factors. For those with a high intake, the risk was reduced by about 30 to 40%. Significantly, the overall median consumption of whole-grain foods by the nurses in this study was only one serving per day, and even the nurses in the top quintile fell a bit short of the generally recommended three servings per day.

In commenting on this, the Harvard researchers wrote, ". . . replacing refined grains with whole grains by even one serving a day may have significant benefits in reducing the risk of ischemic stroke." (It should be noted that, although their study was conducted on women only, there is no reason to believe that the results would not be just as applicable to men.)

Well, then, what's the best source of that one extra serving per day? There are, of course, many possibilities, including whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereal, cooked oatmeal, wheat germ, bran, popcorn, brown rice, and other grains, such as bulgur, kasha, and couscous.

But there is another potential source, one that most people love: pancakes. Not just any pancakes, of course, because virtually all regular pancakes are made with refined flour. That deficiency has now been overcome by life extension scientists Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw, whose pancake mix is made with whole-grain rye as well as whey protein.* Not only do these pancakes pack a healthful punch, they taste great too! Now you can start your day with a delicious breakfast that will please your brain as well as your stomach.

* For more information about this terrific new food, see the article "Protein Power Pancakes" in Life Enhancement's October 2000 issue. Bon appetit!


  1. Liu S, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, Rimm EB, Willett WC. Whole grain consumption and risk of ischemic stroke in women. JAMA 2000 Sep 27;284(12):1534-40.

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator