With World Stroke Day coming up on October 29, this is the perfect opportunity to get better informed on these all too common, potentially devastating, but preventable events.
Stroke is the leading cause of death for people above the age of 60, and the third leading cause of death overall among women in the U.S. (killing twice as many women every year as breast cancer). In fact, each year nearly six million people die from stroke – one every six seconds worldwide. Stroke is also a leading cause of serious long-term disability.
What is Stroke?
A stroke disrupts the flow of blood through your brain and damages brain tissue. There are two chief types of stroke. Ischemic stroke, which accounts for about 90% of strokes, results from blockage in an artery. The other type, hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel leaks or bursts. There are also transient ischemic attacks (TIA) — sometimes called ministrokes — which temporarily disrupt blood flow through the brain and don’t leave permanent damage.
Stroke shares many risk factors with heart disease, the leading cause of death overall. Stroke risk factors include:
• Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or TIA.
• Being over age 55
• High blood pressure (consistently above 120/80, although risk begins to increase at readings higher than 115/75)
• High cholesterol (above 200 total)
• Being overweight (body mass index of 25 to 29) or obese (body mass index of 30 or higher).
• Not exercising
• Excessive or binge drinking
• Circulation problems
• Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, a heart defect, heart infection, or abnormal heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation (AF)
• Fatty deposits - caused by atherosclerosis (a hardening or buildup of cholesterol plaque and other fatty deposits in the arteries) or other diseases
There are also risks that are unique to women. Research shows that while women receive less preventive care for it than men, women in the 45-54 age range are 2.5 times as likely as men to have a stroke. For ages below (35-44) and higher (55-64) than that range, the gender difference is much narrower, with the stroke risks being almost equal.
Some of the additional factors affecting women include:
• During middle age, women's blood pressure and total cholesterol levels rise faster than men's, placing them at greater risk for stroke.
• Hormonal changes such as being pregnant, taking birth control pills, loss of estrogen through menopause, and using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a combined hormone therapy of progestin and estrogen, to relieve menopausal symptoms
• Having a thick waist and high triglyceride (blood fat) level; post-menopausal women with a waist size larger than 35.2 inches and a triglyceride level higher than 128 milligrams per liter may have a five-fold increased risk for stroke
• Being a migraine headache sufferer; migraines can increase stroke risk 3-6 times, and most Americans who suffer migraines are women
The good news is that up to 80% of strokes are preventable. There are several lifestyle changes that can significantly lower your stroke risk:
• Prevent and control high blood cholesterol
• Prevent and control high blood pressure
• Prevent and control diabetes
• Exercise regularly
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Consume a healthy, Mediterranean diet
• Don’t smoke, and drink in moderation
There are also certain natural compounds and nutrients that have been shown to help regulate blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, and support a healthy cardiovascular system.
• Drinking three or more cups of green or black tea a day may reduce the risk of stroke by 21%. And, the more you drink, the greater the cuts in stroke risk. (1)
• Increase potassium and magnesium. Both help reduce blood pressure, and studies suggest that low blood levels of magnesium may increase the risk of stroke by 25%. (2) (3)
• Soy has been found to reduce the risk of stroke, and a 2008 study on isoflavones (found in soy) indicated that they make stroke patients' arteries work better. (4)
• B vitamins help maintain low levels of the harmful chemical homocysteine, which has been linked to increased stroke risk. High doses of B vitamins may also reduce incidence of stroke in people at high risk (5)
• Grape seed and grape skin extract prevent abnormal clotting of the blood.(6)
• Garlic/garlic extract helps thin the blood and maintain healthy blood flow.(7)
• Co-Enzyme Q10 may help lower blood pressure, according to numerous studies (8)
• Resveratrol might be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces "bad" cholesterol and prevents blood clots. (9)
• Polyphenols, found in foods such as olive oil, grapes, coffee and chocolate, help lower blood pressure.
• Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
To support all aspects of cardiovascular and circulatory system function, you may want to consider supplementing with some or all of these nutrients if you are not getting them regularly through your diet. Cardiovascular Support contains many of these ingredients, such as B vitamins, magnesium, Co-Q10, garlic, and green tea, grape seed and grape skin extracts, while Basic Nutrient Support® provides a full spectrum of nutrition, including omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, resveratrol and additional magnesium, B vitamins and extracts.
(1) The study results, published in the online edition of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, were presented Feb. 19 at the American Heart Association's annual International Stroke Conference in San Diego, Calif.
(2) Liao F, Folsom A, Brancati F. Is low magnesium concentration a risk factor for coronary heart disease? The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am Heart J 1998;136:480-90.
(3) Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Hernan MA, Giovannucci EL, Kawachi I, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber and risk of stroke among US men. Circulation 1998;98:1198-204.
(4) Neuroepidemiology. 2009;33(2):111-6. Epub 2009 May 30.Soy consumption reduces risk of ischemic stroke: a case-control study in southern china. Liang W, Lee AH, Binns CW, Huang R, Hu D, Shao H.
(5) International Stroke Conference 2009, San Diego, Feb. 18-20, 2009.
(6) Vitseva O, Varghese S, Chakrabarti S, et al. Grape seed and skin extracts inhibit platelet function and release of reactive oxygen intermediates. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2005;46(4):445-51.
(7) Ackermann RT, Mulrow CD, Ramirez G, Gardner CD, Morbidoni L, Lawrence VA. Garlic shows promise for improving some cardiovascular risk factors. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161:813-824.
(8) Nahas R. Complementary and alternative medicine approaches to blood pressure reduction: An evidence-based review. Can Fam Physician. 2008 Nov;54(11):1529-33. Review.
(9) Bertelli AA, et al. Grapes, resveratrol, and heart health. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2009;54:468.