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Wednesday, Oct. 4
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Study considers soil elements as cause for stroke

Although studies on the stroke belt have been conducted before, few consider elements in the soil as a cause for stroke.

Dr. Ka He, a nutritional epidemiologist in the School of Public Health, is conducting a study that assumes trace elements of magnesium in the soil in the “stroke belt” is different than in other regions of the country.

The stroke belt includes Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

More people in these states have strokes than in other states in America.

“It’s different in terms of its impact,” said Dr. Virginia Howard, a professor of epidemiology at University of Alabama Birmingham and collaborator of the study. “It’s not the same all over the country, and it’s not the same between the races.”

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is responsible for 1 out of every 19 deaths in America each year.

But the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for black people than for white people, and black people are more likely to die following a stroke.

He received a $2.3 million grant in 2012 from the National Institute of Health to conduct a study on the stroke epidemic.

“I don’t think many studies have already focused on trace elements, and secondly, some studies only look at a single one, and we look at five or six together,” He said. “They all interact with each other, I believe.”

His study compares the amount of magnesium in the soil in the stroke belt compared to other regions.

There are more than 600 participants in the study from across the country, and He will analyze why they have or haven’t had a stroke.

“For example, we have some studies that suggest that magnesium is protective or, in other words, can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease including stroke,” He said.
The researchers will also look for trace elements of selenium and the poisonous heavy metals mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

He said that if the research shows a connection between the trace elements’ patterns, or even a single trace element with stroke risk, he hopes they can suggest public health policy.

Suggesting at-risk persons take certain supplements is one policy recommendation, He said.

Still, if proven, trace elements are only one factor for a person having a stroke.

“I believe there are multiple mechanisms,” He said. “Trace elements is just one of the reasons. We still have to think about socioeconomic status and lifestyle differences between people who live in the stroke belt and the non-stroke belt.”

Follow reporter Kathrine Schulze on Twitter @KathrineSchulze.

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