Sitting in traffic, attending a boring work meeting, trying to find parking in a busy mall parking lot. Most people find these events annoying and inconvenient. However, spend just a few minutes with a stroke survivor, and your perspective will completely change. These are challenges that stroke survivors long to face again.
Imagine going from being a highly functioning adult with a job and family responsibilities to someone who depends on others for assistance with the most basic life tasks. Walking, eating, bathing, and even talking often must be relearned. Recovering independence becomes a lifelong goal for many of these individuals.
While the road to recovery looks different for each person, there are many things stroke survivors can do to expedite their healing. Maintaining a sense of hope is one of the most important aspects of recovering from a stroke. Rest assured that these nine science-backed strategies for stroke recovery will propel you or your loved one on a path to healing.
What is a stroke?
A stroke, also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, or blood vessels rupture. As a result, the brain is deprived of the life-giving oxygen and nutrients needed to survive. A stroke is similar to a heart attack in that tissue dies due to the lack of oxygen. As a result, many in the medical community often refer to a stroke as a brain attack.
There are two primary types of strokes:
- Hemorrhagic stroke
Hemorrhagic strokes occur due to a brain’s burst or leaking blood vessels. Also called a cerebral bleed, these strokes are less common but significantly more dangerous. Approximately 15 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.
- Ischemic stroke:
Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked by plaque or a blood clot. Without an adequate supply of blood, the brain tissue begins to die. Approximately 85 percent of strokes are ischemic.
Ischemic strokes with symptoms that last less than 24 hours are called transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. These mini-strokes are often disregarded due to their quick resolution but are huge warning signals for an impending disaster. Unfortunately, studies show that approximately one in three people who’ve had a TIA go on to have a massive stroke.
Effects of a stroke
The impacts of a stroke vary from individual to individual based on the severity, type, location, and how promptly treatment was provided. A person’s baseline health also influences the effects of a stroke. Pre-existing conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, can make recovery more complex. As such, achieving optimal health as early as possible is essential.
The brain is a complex machine that controls nearly all bodily functions. Each area of the brain corresponds to a specific function. For example, if a stroke occurs on the left side of the brain, an individual will sometimes suffer from speech or language problems. On the other hand, right-sided strokes may result in visual problems. Remember that one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body.
Stokes may cause an array of symptoms, including:
- Movement and sensation difficulties
- Eating and swallowing problems
- Speech and language challenges
- Visual disturbances
- Problems with thinking, judgment, memory, and reasoning
- Bowel and bladder control difficulties
- Emotional disturbances such as increased anger, frustration, sadness
- Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Sexual dysfunction
9 proven stroke recovery strategies
While a stroke is a scary, life-altering event, there are concrete actions you or your loved one can take to minimize the impacts and speed up recovery. Stroke recovery time will vary from person to person, but following these nine natural yet science-based strategies will certainly help.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Inflammation of the brain, or neuroinflammation, is often the root cause of a stroke or other neurological disorders. As such, one of the best things you can do for your brain post-stroke is to reduce inflammation.
When it comes to stroke recovery, food is the best medicine. Unfortunately, the standard American diet- high in sugar, refined carbs, and unhealthy seed oils – is highly pro-inflammatory. These processed foods and toxins damage blood vessel linings and are the likely culprits that lead to stroke in the first place.
Since diet is one of the key drivers in inflammation, consuming an anti-inflammatory diet is a natural way to help heal from a stroke. First, increase your intake of green leafy vegetables or beetroot packed with blood-pressure-reducing nitrates. Nitrates get converted into nitric oxide in the body, opening blood vessels and improving blood flow.
Next, add sulfur-containing foods, such as eggs, onion, garlic, and broccoli, to your diet. Sulfur helps to maintain a healthy glycocalyx, the thin, transparent, gel-like substance that keeps blood flowing smoothly through the vessels.
Finally, increase your intake of wild-caught fish and seafood, such as sardines or salmon. The omega-3s, such as EPA and DHA, prevent sticky blood and assist with healthy blood flow. In addition, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, and nutrients like vitamin B12, can help to increase neurogenesis (creation of new neurons in the brain) after a stroke.
- Get enough quality sleep
Sleep is one of the most critical factors that drive a successful recovery after a stroke. Unfortunately, sleep is significantly underrated in healing from a stroke. Multiple studies have established a link between poor sleep and increased stroke risk.
Sleep offers a natural reset for the brain and is the key to restoring mental health and cellular energy. Studies show that sleep fosters neuroplasticity, improving learning and memory. Moreover, the deep sleep obtained in REM is essential to helping the brain process motor information and eliminate toxins.
Sadly, many stroke survivors suffer from sleep disturbances after having their accident. From insomnia to restless legs to sleep-related breathing disorders, sleep problems abound in many people who’ve suffered a stroke.
Prioritizing sleep is essential for speeding up stroke recovery. Aim for 8-9 hours of quality sleep each night. To improve sleep quality, remove distractions from the bedroom, eliminate electronic use before bedtime, and try to rise and sleep in the same rhythm as the sun.
- Keep moving
Having a stroke often leads to physical impairments, making exercise challenging for some individuals. Many stroke survivors struggle with balance, walking, arm strength, and coordination. Exercise is the best antidote for these challenges.
Studies have found exercise greatly enhances stroke recovery, with walking being one of the best choices. For example, a 2020 study found that walking decreased fatigue commonly seen in post-stroke patients. Walking is a low-impact, but highly effective exercise.
Aim to get out for a walk each day, gradually increasing your distance and speed. Other excellent exercises for stroke recovery include yoga, stretching, and light resistance training with weights.
- Keep the brain active
Most of us understand the importance of physical exercise, but did you know it’s just as important to exercise the brain? During a stroke, the brain loses oxygen, damaging neural pathways. These pathways are essential for the brain to send messages throughout the body. Thankfully, the brain has a wonderful capacity to repair itself and build new pathways.
The best way to rewire the brain after a stroke is to engage it actively. The key, however, is repetition and consistency. By completing activities over and over again, the brain develops new neural pathways. Cognitive exercises like playing cards, doing crossword puzzles, and engaging in games help the brain heal after a stroke. Keeping the brain active also helps to prevent other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Boost blood flow
During a stroke, blood flow is impeded to the brain, leaving the brain starving for oxygen. Cerebral vascular insufficiency, or lack of blood flow to the brain, is a significant cause of stroke. This lack of blood flow to the brain is typically caused by atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, that impede blood flow to the brain.
One of the important emergency actions after a stroke is to restore blood flow to the brain, thus reducing neural damage. There are many ways to improve blood flow, including:
- Infrared sauna therapy
- Eating nitrate-rich foods
In addition to these natural methods, stroke patients may consider taking supplements that help to increase nitric oxide production and prevent its breakdown, thus helping to improve blood flow naturally. Organic Heart Beet Powder, Vessel Support, and Arterosil are excellent natural products that help improve blood flow and stroke recovery.
- Limit stress
In today’s world, stress may seem unavoidable. But unfortunately, increased stress translates to a higher risk for stroke. Stress releases the cortisol hormone, triggering a cascade of physiological events that leads to inflammation and depletes the immune system.
Research shows that acute and chronic stress increases the risk of having a CVA. Moreover, studies show that stroke survivors face significantly higher stress levels. Therefore, developing habits that calm the mind and activate the parasympathetic system are invaluable for stroke and recovery. It’s imperative to find ways to reduce stress daily, such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness.
- Try an infrared sauna
If you haven’t tried an infrared sauna, now might be the time. The heat of an infrared sauna helps to open capillaries and improve blood flow. Moreover, sauna use has been shown to lower blood pressure, further reducing the risk of a subsequent stroke.
A 2018 study found that people who used a sauna 4-7 times per week were over 60 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who only used the sauna once per week. Aim for a few sauna sessions each week to speed recovery and ward off a future brain attack.
- Spend time in the sun
Let’s face it; there are few things greater in life than the feeling of the warm sun shining down on our bodies. Yet, medicine has only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding just how vital the sun is for health.
Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which most Americans lack. A 2015 study concluded that stroke patients with higher levels of vitamin D experienced less damage and recovered more quickly than those with lower levels of the vitamin. Interestingly, the researchers found that those with the lowest vitamin D levels had double the amount of dead brain tissue than those with normal vitamin D levels.
Beyond vitamin D, sunlight helps to boost mood. For example, a recent study found that sunlight therapy improved the mental health status of post-stroke patients. In addition, sunlight exposure caused these patients to be more active and engaged in their daily lives.
- Get your heart healthy
One of the most important things you can do to recover and prevent future strokes is to take care of your cardiovascular system. Healthy blood vessels promote blood flow throughout the body, including the brain.
High blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, oxidized cholesterol, and high blood sugar impede blood flow to the brain, increase brain inflammation, and raise the risk of stroke. Atherosclerosis of the heart is a significant risk factor for an ischemic stroke or brain damage. Therefore, taking care of your brain means taking good care of your heart.
Did you know that one out of every four people who have had a stroke will have another one? The risk of subsequent strokes is significantly high for stroke survivors. The good news is that you don’t have to be the one! In fact, an estimated 80 percent of second strokes are entirely avoidable with lifestyle changes.
One of the best ways to prevent having another stroke is to work with a doctor who can help you get to the root cause of why your stroke occurred in the first place. For example, do you have damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure, or hormonal imbalances? Were you exposed to mold or other environmental toxins that triggered your stroke?
Our health experts at Natural Heart Doctor will be able to help you uncover the cause of your stroke, propelling you on a path of healing.
Medical Review: Dr. Jack Wolfson, 2023