Reduce Your Risk of Stroke: Top 20 Nutrients and Strategies
“When you have a stroke, you must talk slowly to be understood, and I’ve discovered that when I talk slowly, people listen. They think I’m going to say something important!” Kirk Douglas
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes has reported that strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in North America. A stroke is the result of an interrupted or cut off blood supply to brain cells, leading to various degrees of brain damage. There are basically two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.
Types of stroke
1) Ischemic stroke
2) Hemorrhagic stroke
Ischemic strokes occur when blood vessels in the neck or brain are blocked, thereby cutting off circulation and oxygen to the brain. At least 90% of all strokes are of the ischemic variety. Ischemic strokes can be caused by thrombosis (clot formation and blockage), embolism (a clot moving from another part of the body to the brain), or stenosis (severe narrowing of an artery supplying the brain).
Hemorrhagic strokes are the result of bleeding into the brain; these represent approximately 10% of all strokes and 30 – 60% of all stroke-related deaths. AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation), a congenital anatomical defect, and leaking/burst aneurysms are the two usual causes of a hemorrhagic stroke. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is thought to be the usual triggering event causing the bleeding.
A mini-stroke is called a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). In this type of stroke, blood flow is temporarily decreased resulting in dizziness and other neurological deficits lasting for less than five minutes. Brain damage is minimal but can be made worse if blood pressure is not adequately controlled. TIAs can be warning signs of major strokes in the future and should be taken very seriously.
Warning Signs of a Stroke
- Inability to speak
- Unusual and severe headache
- Sudden weakness on one side of the body
- Unusual or slurred speech; stupor; paralysis in the face, arm, or leg
- Sudden numbness or tingling in any part of the body, including the face
- Stiff neck
- Severe muscle stiffness that comes on rapidly
- Compromised coordination of the arms, hands and legs
- Unsteady walk or poor balance resulting in staggering, weaving or veering
- Vision loss, blurred or double vision, or trouble focusing
- Inability to look at a bright light or sunshine
- Unusual rapid eye movement; involuntary eye movements
- Vomiting and nausea
- Difficulty swallowing
- Irregular breathing
- Memory loss
- Unusual behaviours
- Loss of consciousness or coma
Causes and Risk Factors
- High Blood Pressure: is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women.
- Being Overweight: increases both high blood pressure, insulin resistance, as well as stroke risk.
- Atrial Fibrillation: An irregular heartbeat can increase stroke risk by at least five times by causing clots to form in the heart that travel to the brain.
- Diabetes: Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes make blood clots more likely.
- Smoking: can increase plaque build-up and clot formation. Smoking not only damages lung and heart tissue but can also injure blood vessels.
- Family History: is a risk factor for stroke.
- Alcohol Abuse: Two or more drinks a day increases stroke risk but this point is fiercely debated by many health experts, so it remains controversial.
- Drug Use: Narcotics (cocaine, heroin) and amphetamines increase the risk for stroke. Some children who have been prescribed various amphetamines for ADHD (Ritalin, Adderal, Strattera, Vyvance, etc.) have developed strokes and even death as a result of these drugs.
- Sleep apnea and insomnia: can lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
- Vitamin D Deficiency: Low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk for stroke.
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, cyclamates etc.): can triple the risk of stroke. These chemicals can destroy the friendly bacteria in the gut and increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
- Oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement drugs can increase the risk of stroke even for women in their 20s. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy does not convey the same high level of risk and is more likely to be well tolerated.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and others can elevate blood pressure and increase stroke risk.
Healthy Stroke Prevention Strategies
Conventional medical stroke prevention includes medications to lower blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol, control blood sugar if elevated, and thin the blood to prevent clots. Drugless methods of stroke prevention can be used as complementary medicine with the advice of a natural health care practitioner. Here is a list of the best evidence-based natural approaches:
1. Control blood pressure: Use a diet with salt restriction (1,500 mg or less daily) and lifestyle changes to optimize blood pressure. There is some evidence that the ideal diet for stroke prevention is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is high in fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, olive oil, red wine in moderation, fish, and whole grains – and low in refined sugar, fatty meats, as well as fried and processed fast foods.
Ideal blood pressure varies with age but, generally, it should not be any higher than 140/90 in most adults over age 50. Recommended guidelines on this keep changing and it should be remembered that lowering blood pressure too much with prescription drugs can cause dizziness and potentially dangerous side effects.
Dr. David Brownstein says it best in one of his recent blogs: “For a healthy 60-year-old, a blood pressure of 150/90mmHg should not considered elevated. In fact, it is an average blood pressure for someone age 60. To release a guideline that states this is the highest it can go before a person needs medication is ludicrous. What about someone who is 80 years old? An 80-year-old will generally have a higher blood pressure when compared to a 60-year-old because his/her blood vessels are less pliable. I do not think a healthy 80-year-old patient with a blood pressure of 160/90 needs any antihypertensive medications.”
Regular exercise and stress reduction are also very important as are supplemental nutrients like garlic, CoQ10, vitamin D, magnesium, L-theanine, L-taurine, L-arginine, L-citrulline, GABA, and herbal remedies like ginkgo biloba extract, hawthorn, and rauwolfia.
2. Lose Weight – This may be crucial to stroke prevention for those who are more than 10% overweight. Since this is a highly individual concern, it’s best to work with an experienced natural health care practitioner for a personalized diet and exercise program. Lifestyle and habit changes are way more important here than calorie restriction.
Radical low-calorie dieting from one of the many weight loss clinic chains is not recommended. Weight reduction should never be forced and rapid since doing so could be an excessive stress, starving the body of vital nutrients. Yo-yo dieting actually reduces metabolic rate and has a success rate of about 1%. A failure rate of 99% for stable weight loss is hardly something to get excited about.
3. Reduce Stress – to help prevent high blood pressure. There are many ways of doing this (meditation, yoga, aerobic exercises, massage therapy, psychotherapy, acupuncture, etc.). Stress-reducing natural health products include magnesium, B complex vitamins, L-theanine, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan), passion flower herb, valerian, St. John’s Wort tincture, and amino acid L-tryptophan.
4. Improve Sleep – with use of natural remedies like melatonin, magnesium, L-theanine, L-threonine, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), passion flower, holy basil, 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan), L-tryptophan, valerian, St. John’s wort, and others (for more information visit: https://tinyurl.com/DrZhealsinsomnia).
5. Control Blood Sugar Levels – with a low glycemic index diet. Eliminate refined sugars, grains, starches and alcohol. (For more tips on balancing your blood sugar, see my article Healing Diabetes Naturally.
Natural Stroke Prevention Nutrients
6. BLACK OR GREEN TEA – Drink three cups of either tea daily because of their high levels of antioxidants. If sensitive to caffeine, use decaffeinated versions or drink naturally decaffeinated hibiscus herb tea because of its blood pressure-lowering properties. None of these interact with blood thinning medications. If drinking ginger root tea, however, take care because it can interact with blood thinning drugs.
7. POMEGRANATE JUICE – reduces inflammation, can help lower high blood pressure, and can also help boost heart health.
8. VITAMIN D – Since vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for stroke, supplementing with a high-quality vitamin D supplement or getting plenty of sunscreen-free sunshine can help prevent strokes primarily by reducing inflammation. Mushrooms, raw milk, and free-range eggs are good food sources of vitamin D; so are fish and seafood but, due to mercury contamination large intakes of fish are discouraged. Also, research indicates that vitamin D and vitamin K work synergistically for optimal health. Vitamin K primarily functions as a coenzyme, a protein that speeds up a reaction, for the synthesis of proteins involved in blood clotting and more. Prothrombin is a vitamin K-dependent protein vital for blood coagulation. This explains why patients on anticoagulants, such as Warfarin, must avoid vitamin K supplementation.
9. GARLIC – is effective at lowering high blood pressure, lowering high LDL-cholesterol, and thinning the blood naturally. Unless you are on blood thinner medication, virtually any amount of garlic is safe.
10. VITAMIN C – and bioflavonoids like quercetin and bilberry can improve blood vessel integrity and the health of the cardiovascular system in general. The effective dose is dependent on individual factors such as stress, physical activity, and general health. There is a mistaken belief out there that vitamin C encourages blood thinning, yet there is no evidence of this published anywhere.
11. B COMPLEX (especially folic acid, vitamin B6, betaine, and vitamin B12) – supplementation may be associated with decreased risk of stroke.
12. VITAMIN E (400 – 800 IU daily) – provides natural blood thinning effects and can also reduce stroke risk. In purchasing vitamin E supplements, get the full vitamin E spectrum that contains alpha, gamma, delta tocopherols as well as the tocotrienols.
13. L-CARNOSINE (1,000 mg daily) is an amino acid with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-glycation, anti-ischaemic and chelating benefits recommended for its life extending properties. It has preventive and therapeutic benefits in obesity, insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and neurological and mental health conditions.
14. OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – (4,000 mg daily) from fish or krill help thin the blood, improving circulation. Strict vegetarians can source these from algae supplements like spirulina and chlorella. Black seed oil (Nigella Sativa) is another potent natural anti-inflammatory oil supplement that can improve brain health and prevent brain cell damage.
15. GINKGO BILOBA extract (40 mg daily) – improves circulation and acts as a safe blood thinner. Many people use this herbal supplement to enhance memory. Care should be taken if one is on warfarin, due to ginkgo’s ability to interact with that blood thinning drug.
16. VINPOCETENE – is a vasodilator (5 mg daily) allowing more oxygen to the brain. It is also often recommended as a memory enhancer and is usually found in brain function improvement formulas.
17. MAGNESIUM L-THREONATE (1,000 mg daily) – can also dilate blood vessels and improve circulation. It too has memory enhancing properties. Other forms of magnesium do not cross the blood/brain barrier as easily as the L-threonate form. Transdermal forms like magnesium chloride will also not work as well as the L-threonate form.
18. CURCUMIN (1,000 mg or more daily) – curtails LDL cholesterol, can help control high blood sugar levels, protects the liver, and reduces inflammation that could lead to strokes.
19. SERRAPEPTASE (120,000 units or more daily) – is an enzyme originating from the silkworm that can gobble up and get rid of arterial plaque. It has been used in place of intravenous chelation therapy mostly in Europe and was pioneered by well-known physician, Dr. Hans Nieper, in Germany well over 50 years ago. This supplement should definitely be considered by anyone with hardening of the arteries but should be used with care if used in combination with blood thinning medication.
20. ALPHA LIPOIC ACID (500 mg or more daily) – is best known for its liver protective benefits, and it has been used extensively to help lower high blood glucose levels that could trigger strokes.
Most people with a high risk of stroke certainly do not need all of these remedies at the same time. If a person is on a blood thinner like warfarin, please note that it will interact with most of the supplemental nutrients. Treatment protocols need to be individualized as much as possible but these are all the possible things that could be considered. Work with a natural health care professional for a personalized program.
* Stroke prevention and treatment. https://www.raysahelian.com/stroke.html
*7 things you can do to prevent a stroke. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/8-things-you-can-do-to-prevent-a-stroke
*Complementary and alternative treatments for stroke. https://www.healthline.com/health/stroke/alternative-treatments#supplements
*Healing Diabetes Naturally: https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/healing-diabetes-naturally/
*Dr. David Brownstein: https://www.drbrownstein.com/blood-pressure-and-lipid-guidelines-for-the-elderly-useless/
*Mediterranean diet for stroke prevention: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22034786