Stroke Prevention and Recovery

  • 23 Aug 2011
  • Reading time 21 mins
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Strokes are the third most common cause of death in England and Wales. The good news is most of the known risk factors can be modified with simple changes in dietary and lifestyle habits.

Causes and effects of strokes

Put simply, a stroke happens when there is a disturbance in the brain’s blood supply which starves cells of oxygen and leads to cell death and a loss of brain function. There are two types of stroke; ‘ischaemic’ and ‘haemorrhagic’. ‘Ischaemic’ strokes are more common and occur when blood flow to or within the brain is blocked. This blockage could happen for a variety of reasons.

A blood clot might form in one of the four main arteries carrying blood to the brain (the right and left carotid arteries, and the right and left vertebrobasilar arteries) or in smaller arteries and capillaries within the brain. Alternatively a blood clot, fat globule or air bubble present in a blood vessel in another part of the body could be carried to the brain. ‘Haemorrhagic’ strokes are the type where a damaged or weakened artery bursts and there is bleeding into the brain.

These damaged blood vessels could be located within the brain (causing an intracerebral haemorrhage) or on the brain surface (causing a subarachnoid haemorrhage). The effects of a stroke differ simply because they depend on the area in which the blockage occurs and the size of artery affected. A stroke in the left half of the brain will affect the right side of the body and vice versa. Blockage of a main artery will result in much more damage than the blockage of a small capillary which only supplies blood to a smaller area of the brain.

Much of the damage from strokes is believed to result from the activation of various enzymes which affect phospholipids and essential fats, which are key components of brain cell membranes, and through the generation of oxidants which promote death of brain cells. When considering ways to minimise this damage and recover from a stroke it makes sense to not only improve your intake of phospholipids and essential fats but also provide a means to mop up these damaging oxidants. This is why choline, lecithin, fish oils,

B vitamins and antioxidants should form the backbone of any stroke recovery protocol. I’ll discuss these and the evidence supporting their use a bit later. How to recognise a stroke The outcomes of a stroke are pretty sobering; according to statistics from The Stroke Association for every three people who have a stroke, one will recover, one will be left severely disabled and one will die. The damage that occurs with a stroke is time dependent, so the quicker the diagnosis and treatment, the more this damage can be minimised.

This message underlies the Government campaign which urges people to act FAST, using the Face, Arm & Speech Test to identify stroke. Facial weakness, arm weakness and speech disturbance are typical signs of stroke. F - Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye dropped? A - Arm weakness. Can the person raise both arms? S - Speech disturbance. Can the person speak clearly? Can they understand what you say? T - Test for each of the above three things. However, in some cases, these signs can be short-lived and disappear within 24 hours. This is known as a ‘mini-stroke’ or transient ischaemic attack (TIA).

Although you might be reassured by its short time frame, it’s vital to seek medical attention immediately because TIA is a serious event and a stroke risk factor. Stroke risk factors There are some groups of people who have a higher risk of stroke. People of Afro-Caribbean origin are twice as likely to have a stroke as is someone of European origin, and more likely to have a first stroke at a younger age. Similarly, being of South Asian origin also increases your risk. Middle-aged women have a higher stroke risk than middle-aged men and women in general are more likely to die from stroke. However, other factors such as age, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, diabetes and cigarette smoking have all been linked to stroke risk, as are having a previous stroke, an abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) or a TIA. While you can’t stop the ageing process, it’s obvious that many of these risk factors can be modified.

Specific dietary changes and regular exercise can help in improving your cholesterol profile, reducing blood pressure and managing diabetes, so where necessary you can take action and target each of these individually. If you also want to stop smoking and break free from addictive habits then my book How To Quit Without Feeling S**t will give you advice on how to do this.

Five steps to reducing your stroke risk

1. Lower high blood pressure: High blood pressure is one of the top risk factors and is linked with three quarters of strokes. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to reduce it without taking drugs, which have their own associated side effects. Diet, supplements and even laughter are all effective in reducing blood pressure and these are explored in the Special Report How to Lower High Blood Pressure Naturally.

2. Improve your cholesterol: We’ve all heard about cholesterol, the soft, waxy fat which is naturally made by your body and present in foods such as eggs, meat and dairy products, and how it impacts on cardiovascular health. Cholesterol is mainly transported in your body as LDL-cholesterol and HDL–cholesterol. LDL-cholesterol is commonly called ‘bad’ cholesterol as it can promote atherosclerosis (where fat and cholesterol accumulate and block your blood vessels) increasing blood pressure and increasing your risk of stroke. Having high HDL-cholesterol, known as &......

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