Let’s Talk Stroke Prevention

It’s Stroke Awareness month! While a stroke can be life altering, or even deadly, the good news is there is a fair bit you can do to improve your heart health.

So what is a Stroke? 

A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It is caused by the interruption of flow of blood to the brain (ischemic stroke) or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The interruption of blood flow or the rupture of blood vessels causes brain cells (neurons) in the affected area to die. The effects of a stroke depend on where the brain was injured, as well as how much damage occurred. A stroke can impact any number of areas including your ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason and read and write. http://www.heartandstroke.on.ca/

Are strokes preventable? 

The good, short answer is yes.  Dietary choices and lifestyle can prevent strokes.  Knowing the facts and being proactive are key.  Atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries often leads to stroke and is preventable and reversible.  If you have high blood pressure (hypertension) or issues with arteries, you can improve your situation.

Foods to prevent strokes and promote optimal wellness:

Beets

The greens and roots contain betacyanin which promotes healthy heart function.  Compounds in beets can dissolve calcium deposits and therefore prevent hardening of the arteries.  Research states that eating beets can prevent clotting, lower the blood pressure and reduce inflammation.  Dr. Oz & Readers Digest.

Kale

For starters, kale boasts a bumper crop of heart-healthy antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin E. It’s also rich in lutein, which correlated in the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study with protection against early atherosclerosis. Kale even contains an unusual compound, glucoraphanin, that activates a special protective protein called Nrf2. “It creates a sort of Teflon coating in your arteries to keep plaque from adhering,” – Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  (most dark green vegetables such as broccoli, collards, bok choy and sprouts are great too) 

Fiber

Eating high-fiber foods may protect against stroke, a new analysis of research suggests.  The data, pooled from eight observational studies, all with at least three years of follow-up, indicated that each seven-gram increase in daily fiber intake reduced the risk of a first stroke by about 7 percent. The findings were published in the journal Stroke.  Ideal fiber intake is 35 grams per day, most North Americans are getting less than 10 grams, so we can all improve. Increase the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Protein

Great choices are lean poultry, bison, venison, lamb, legumes, quinoa.  Wild salmon, skip jack or light tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, are also healthy options.  Note that true grass fed beef is a good choice and will not create a stroke risk if eaten in moderation.

Cured deli meats are not recommended, the nitrates may damage blood vessels. –National Stroke Association.

Good Fats or Oils

Nutritionists call omega-3 6, & 9 fatty acids “essential” fats for good reason. The human body needs them for many functions. Our bodies can’t produce them. The best way to get them into your body is through food. –Dr. Andrew Weil MD.

There is growing evidence that the right fats help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Good fats, bad fats, trans fats?  How to choose? Good fats include olive oil, flax oil, coconut oil. Raw nuts & seeds, avocados, wild salmon & olives contain good fats.  Not so good fats might be called trans fats and are found in prepackaged foods, fast foods, deep fried foods and many store bought baked goods and margarine.  Note that coconut oil is a saturated fat that has been studied extensively and proven to be good for stroke prevention.

Less Salt

A diet high in salt (sodium) can increase blood pressure and the risk of stroke. The more sodium in your blood, the more your blood volume increases because sodium attracts and retains water. The heart has to work harder to move the increased volume of blood through the blood vessels. This creates increased strain on the arteries and high blood pressure.

Use grey unbleached sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. (salty taste with the benefit of naturally occurring minerals and less sodium)

500 mg (1/4 tsp) of sodium is required to maintain fluid balance, nerve & muscle function, ideally do not exceed 1500 to 2000 mg. 

Be especially aware of diet pop and soda

Earlier this year, research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference showed that people who drink just one diet soda a day may increase their risk of stroke by 48 percent!

“This study suggests that diet soda is not an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and may be associated with a greater risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, or vascular death than regular soda.” Wed Med MD.   Note please that there is no health benefit to any soda pop.  There are many great options, like mineral water with a splash or juice or water infused with fruit. http://www.yummly.com/recipes/infused

Other tips on Stroke Prevention:

Vitamin D Deficiency is being linked in studies to Stroke risk

Stroke patients with low vitamin D levels were found to be more likely than those with normal vitamin D levels to suffer severe strokes and have poor health months after stroke, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015.  Ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D levels or to suggest a dosage of a Vitamin D3 for you.

Tummy Size

Tummy size increases the risk of stroke, women’s waist measurement ideally should be under 31 inches and men less than 37 inches.  Tummies can be trimmed with diet and exercise, I can help you with an easy food plan and help you find a fitness activity that suits you. 

About the author ...

Kathy Shackleton, is a Holistic Nutritionist and Health Educator practicing in Dufferin County Ontario. She is passionate about using food as medicine and medicine as food. In her spare time Kathy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, yoga and volunteering with local groups and events such as Savour Fair which raises funds for students of agriculture and creates community awareness for local, clean food.