Stroke Is Often Preventable
Stroke is the third biggest killer and the greatest cause of major disability in New Zealand. In “developed countries” like NZ, after cardiovascular disease and cancer, stroke is the third most common cause of death hospitalisation.
A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to any part of your brain, causing damage and death to brain cells. Its effects can be devastating and may last a lifetime. A stroke is also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), and is a life-threatening event in which part of the brain is not getting enough oxygen. It may be due to either a prolonged lack of oxygen-rich blood to the brain (cerebral ischemia) or bleeding into or around the brain (cerebral haemorrhage). Like any other part of your body, your brain needs a constant supply of blood and oxygen for it to work. Your brain is quite greedy, requiring almost one third of all the oxygen you breathe in to function well. The blood vessels that carry blood are a system of tubes and branches of various sizes. Each area of the brain has its own blood supply from one of these branches. Once one of these branches becomes blocked or starved of oxygen, damage occurs to the region of the brain affected.
Both My Parents Died Of Strokes
I dedicate this article to my mother and father, who unfortunately both passed away as a result of strokes. Dad died from a massive stroke at 73, and mum passed away after her two strokes in October 2009 at 78 years of age. Dad could have prevented his stroke no doubt, the warning signs were all there for many years, he was overweight, had high-blood pressure, a poor diet, and was a dedicated smoker. And very frustrating for me – to be able to help so many patients over the years, but I couldn’t help dad. I told my mother that if dad were to go, it would be from a stroke, and made the stroke prediction about 5 years prior to his passing. My mother and father were both heavy smokers for over fourty years. So please take heed with the following article, or perhaps send it to someone you love and care about, somebody who could well prevent a stroke. Somebody perhaps not aware they are breeding a preventable disease that can take their life away in a flash. I can still remember him telling me this, the last conversation we had on the phone: “I’ll be alright son, I’m feeling great”, little did he know that a silent killer was lurking within him, a condition that would render his brain a useless mass, and take away his life only a few days after his massive stroke. When I spoke with the doctor, it became apparent that his brain bleed was massive and deep-seated. Even if he were to recover, there would be no recognition of family or friends, poor sight and hearing, and he couldn’t even feed himself. A once proud man reduced to a mere vegetable. My brother and I decided there and then that our dad would never have wanted to be like this. So we made the decision there and then to switch his life-supporting machine off. What a way to go, a once proud man who could not even recognise his own boys who just wanted to say their goodbyes.This is the sad reality for far too many older people who have become complacent about their health in their ‘twilight’ years.
Your Brain Is Your Body’s Hard-Drive
Your brain talks to the rest of your body, and receives feedback signals from your body in a fashion similar to how your computer operates. Your brain is your body’s control center, a bit like your computer’s hard drive, the “nerve control centre” controlling the PC. Your brain’s nerve cells are connected to millions of other nerve cells in all parts of your body — some of these send messages back to the brain, telling it what is happening throughout the body, others carry messages from the brain to tell the various body organs and systems how to function. Remember how frustrated you were when your computer’s hard-drive crashed? Now what happens when your brain literally crashes…. perhaps even permanently, with no chance of re-booting, or a slim chance of document recovery? …this happens to about 20 New Zealanders every single day, and it is called a stroke.
Stroke Statistics 1, 13
The risk of experiencing a stroke before 70 is about 5%.
- This year, 1800 people will suffer a stroke before retirement age, about 25% of all strokes.
- At the current rate, in 30 years time, on average 60 people a day will suffer a stroke.
- Each person in NZ has a 1 in 8 chance of having a stroke in their lifetime.
- On average 20 unsuspecting New Zealanders will have a stroke every day.
- Strokes cost tax payers a massive $138 million per year for hospital services alone.
- About 25% of persons who experience a stroke will die as a result or of complications.
- About 50% experience long-term moderate to severe impairment or disability.
Stroke Risk Factors 12
If you have two or more risk factors for stroke then your risk of stroke multiplies. Here are simple steps which when taken into account, can substantially reduce your risk of getting a stroke. Both my parents smoked most of their lives. Do you still smoke? Then you may want to quit before it’s too late. It’s your call.
The major two risk factors are high-blood pressure and smoking
- High-blood pressure: get it checked regularly, if high, get it treated.
- Stop smoking NOW, particularly if your blood pressure is high.
- Smoking + high blood pressure: means that your risk is at least 18 x higher than normal.
- Smoking + high blood pressure + one other factor will increase the risk even more profoundly.
- Reduce your alcohol intake, 1 drink a day for a female, 2 a day for a male is moderation.
- Lower your Heart Risk Markers like your Homocysteine levels. (ask your doctor to do a fasting test)
- Control your weight, don’t become overweight through inactivity and over-eating.
- Regular exercise program. walking is excellent, swimming, cycling, etc, there are many forms.
- Watch your diet, your overall health will improve significantly with a healthy diet, and supplement.
- Do you have atrial fibrillation (irregular heart contractions)? Have treatment.
- do you have Hyperthyroidism? Have treatment.
If you have four or more risk factors present you honestly are an accident waiting to happen. Getting rid of even one risk factor can have a positive impact on your health, whilst reducing your chances of having a stroke over the next few years.The more risk factors you reduce, the slimmer your chance of a future event.
Stroke Symptom Recognition and Treatment
If you find yourself suffering from any of the following, blurred vision, slurred speech or loss of sensation, contact your doctor. Not all strokes are sudden and incapacitating. The sooner medical attention is received, the less damage a stroke will potentially cause. As soon as a person with a stroke is stable, therapy is initiated to help the stroke victim on the long road to rehabilitation.
Generally a person with a stroke is admitted to an acute medical ward or a stroke unit for initial testing and treatment. Later they may be transferred to a specialised stroke rehab ward. Most strokes involve an initial period of differing degrees of unconsciousness or altered consciousness. The deeper and longer lasting the unconsciousness, the more serious and life threatening the stroke.
On the basis of the information gained from the assessment and tests such as blood tests to check for disease or abnormal clotting, chest x-ray to check for any heart or lung abnormalities, an ECG to test the heart function, a treatment programme is worked out.
Pharmaceutical treatment: Taking aspirin (Cartia) or other anti-platelet medications. Aspirin prevents abnormal blood clotting (by blocking the cyclo-oxygenase enzyme that produces the prostaglandin E2 that is implicated in abnormal blood clotting). However Aspirin also inhibits numerous beneficial enzymes and prostaglandins, as well as causing gastric bleeding. 2 Dr. Mark Alberts, reported at the 5th World Stroke Congress that 47% of patients demonstrated aspirin resistance Results of a recent study suggest that almost half of patients hospitalised for treatment of ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) are “aspirin resistant”, and there also was a trend towards more resistance in patients taking enteric-coated aspirin (Cartia) compared to uncoated aspirin (73% versus 39%).
Diet and stroke
It has even been observed in the Framingham Heart study, that saturated fats were associated with an actual protective effect on stroke! The present research suggests that the villain for stroke could well be the high intake of linoleic acid (LA), the main polyunsaturated fatty acid consumed through the Western world. Observation and intervention studies suggest that the fatty acid with the most efficient protective effect on stroke is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (the same as for CHD clinical manifestations). Also similarly to CHD, and folic acid, have important protective effect on stroke. The diet recommendations suggested by the Lyon Diet Heart Study and the Finland Heart Study (Mediterranean diet high in fruit, vegetables, nuts/seeds, very moderate red wine, olive oil, oily fish, etc.) have both markedly reduced the mortality from heart disease, cancer and stroke by more than 50% over a 20 year period.3
Alcohol and stroke at a very moderate rate, alcohol may be related to lowering the risk of a stroke as on that of CHD. Nevertheless alcohol, at high intake for intoxication has been associated with up to a 10 fold increased in the risk of stroke.3
Dairy Foods and Stroke
You can ask anyone in my family, my dad loved ice cream. I since found out that dairy fats can stimulate an enzyme in your blood called xanthine oxidase, which literally acts like a scalpel inside your artery walls. It causes tiny nicks and scratches, which eventually lead to weak spots. You could liken this to ‘pot holes’ on a road surface. But in your body, there is no council truck that comes along every now & then, and dumps some stuff in the holes. You guessed it – the weak spots eventually can literally ‘blow out’, causing a bleed. Now, if this happens to be in your brain – you have a stroke on your hands. I recommend that people avoid the dairy fats, like full-cream milk, cream, and condensed milk (dad’s absolute favourite). Go for low fat dairy alternatives (0.3% fat) and if possible, skip dairy altogether and take a calcium/magnesium supplement instead.
Investigators evaluated exercise habits and stroke rates over an 11-year period in more than 21,800 male physicians aged 40 to 84 years. Men who engaged in strenuous exercise only once per week experienced a 21% lower risk of stroke compared to those who exercised less frequently. 4
Natural Medicines for Stroke Prevention
There are many herbal and nutritional options for the treatment as well as prevention of stroke. Here are some of my favourite.
Magnesium is easily one of the most deficient of all minerals. Blood vessels supplying the brain are quite prone to vascular spasm with Mg deficiency, vascular spasms occuring may result in stroke. With Mg, cerebral arteries relax causing increased cerebral blood flow. Human epidemiological study demonstrated that magnesium supplementation may provide significant protection against stroke.5
May protect against the abnormal blood clotting that can cause stroke. Human study demonstrated that persons with low selenium levels have a 3.7 times greater risk for death from stroke.6
(50 mg per day) may reduce the risk of stroke by up to 50%. Dietary intake of beta-carotene was inversely associated with the risk for cerebral infarction. No association was detected between other dietary antioxidants and risk for stroke in male smokers.7
May help to prevent stroke and helps to prevent mortality in people who have experienced a stroke. Human studies have reported that four weeks of pre-treatment with coenzyme Q10 before the occurrence of a stroke caused almost total recovery from a severe stroke.8
Folic Acid may help to prevent Strokes (by lowering elevated Homocysteine levels). Studies have found that people with the lowest levels of folic acid (and vitamin B6) have the highest risk of stroke.9
Alpha Linoleic Acid
ALA may help to prevent atherosclerosis, abnormal blood clotting, high-blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and atherosclerosis.10
May well enhance the body’s ability to recover from strokes, as well as prevent their occurrence. Ginkgo biloba results overall in significant improvement in stroke patients.11
Having a stroke is a very frightening experience, not only for the victim, but also for their family and friends. What a shock it came to me when I was called up to hear the bad news about my dad, it was all over for him in a matter of days. Like a hit and run accident, here today, gone tomorrow. No time to say goodbye. Same went for my mother, although poor mum had her first stroke early in 2008 which left her extremely dizzy and unable to stand unaided. She died of a massive second stroke about eight months later after suffering terribly with her inability to perform even basic tasks which you and I take for granted. Don’t let it happen to you!
What is frustrating for health-care professionals is that for most people, some very basic changes in their lifestyles such as a healthy diet, weight-loss, an exercise program, and smoking cessation could markedly reduce their chances of having a stroke, developing cancer and preventing heart disease. In view of our “Western” diet, deficient in so many minerals and low in vitamins, it also makes sense to take a balanced high-quality multi vitamin and mineral supplement each day. Consult your naturopath, the stroke-prevention specialists, the sooner you start changing your diet and lifestyle, the sooner the risk factors decrease. Stroke self-assessment cards are available from many pharmacies in NZ as part of the Stroke Appeal.
- The New Zealand Stroke Foundation Website.
- Faloon, W. Inflammation and heart disease. Life Extension. 7(1), 2001.
- Renaud, S. C., et al. Diet and stroke. J Nutr Health Aging, 5(3):167-72, 2001.
- Kiely, D., et al. Physical activity and stroke risk: the Framingham Study. Am. Journal of Epid. 140(7):608-620, 1994.
- Muir, K. W. Magnesium in stroke treatment. Postgraduate Med J. 78(925):641-645, 2002.
- Serum selenium and the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Am. Journal of Epid. 122(2):276-282, 1985
- Hirvonen, T. Intake of flavonoids, carotenoids, vit C and E & risk of stroke in smokers. Stroke. 31(10):2301-2306, 2000.
- Ely, J. T. A., et al. Hemorrhagic stroke in human pretreated with coenzyme Q10. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 13(2):105-109, 1998.
- Robinson, K., et al. Low circulating folate and vitamin B6 concentrations risk factors for stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary artery disease. Circulation. 97:437-443, 1998.
- Faloon, W. The ‘silent’ stroke epidemic. Life Extension. 7(5), 2001.
- Christen, Y., Costentin, J., Lacour, M., (editors). Effects of Ginkgo biloba Extract (EGb 761) on the Central Nervous System. Elsevier, Paris, 1992:95-104.
- Leary, M. C., et al. Incidence of Silent Stroke, abstracts of the International Stroke Conference. 32: 363-b, 2000.
- Public Health Intelligence Occasional Bulletin No. 12. NZ Ministry of Health., PDF Doc. www.moh.govt.nz/phi
Article Last Update: 9 December 2011