Stroke, or more accurately a “brain attack,” is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. It’s also a leading cause of permanent disability among survivors. Your risk of stroke increases with age, a factor over which you have no control. But, new research has identified several alterable lifestyle factors that can significantly reduce that risk.
Research in the journal Circulation has found that people who ate an unhealthful diet on a long-term basis were 10 to 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Along with a diet that includes plenty of antioxidant -rich fruits and vegetables, it’s important to include foods high in calcium , magnesium , and potassium . All three minerals help keep arterial walls supple and flexible, allowing the heart to pump blood efficiently and reducing plaque buildup in the arteries. That means less stress on the heart and less chance of a stroke, whether from a clot or rupture due to a blocked artery. These three minerals also help to lower blood pressure and maintain proper electrolyte balance, preventing irregular heart rhythms. For even more artery protection, add polyphenol -rich foods to your diet. Apples, berries, dark chocolate, pomegranate, red wine, and tea are all great sources of these potent antioxidants . Omega-3 fatty acids , found primarily in fish but also in nuts , flaxseed , and soy products , can also reduce the incidence of stroke by reducing blood platelet aggregation (blood clotting), blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Exercise is just as important as diet for preventing a stroke. Harvard researchers report that people who aren’t physically active are 66 to 76 percent more likely to suffer a stroke than those who exercise at least six hours a week. How much you drink matters, too. During the same study, the Harvard group found that the participants who drank small amounts of alcohol (2½ drinks a week) were 16 to 23 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who didn’t drink at all. But moderation is key. The researchers also found that those who drank the most (at least two drinks per day) had a 39 to 41 percent greater risk compared to teetotalers. Smoking was another risk factor, more than doubling the chances of a stroke. If you smoke, look for ways to quit.
B vitamins: help break down homocysteine, which reduces the risk of stroke. Researchers from Canada’s University of Toronto and McMaster University analyzed the results of a five-year research trial that randomly assigned 5,522 adults with heart disease to either take a placebo or a combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 , and vitamin B12 . The study found that these nutrients help prevent a first stroke and can also reduce the risk of stroke in those with existing heart disease. Typical dosage: 800 to 1,000 mcg of folic acid , along with at least 50 mg of vitamin B-6 and 500 mcg of B-12 each day.
Curcumin: a compound in the curry spice turmeric, has been found to help protect and regenerate brain cells after a stroke. The study, which was presented at the 2011 American Heart Association International Stroke Conference, found that curcumin encourages the growth of new brain cells and prevents cell death after a stroke. In addition, curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes that cause inflammation. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.
Fish oil: helps thin the blood and reduces inflammation. Large population studies suggest that fish oil also helps protect against stroke caused by plaque buildup and blood clots in the arteries that lead to the brain. Typical dosage: 1 gram daily.