Each year in the United States, nearly 800,000 people have a stroke. Of these incidents, 137,000 people die, making stroke the fifth leading cause of death nationally.
An increasing number of people are surviving strokes thanks to improved awareness of stroke symptoms and access to emergency medical care. However, those who survive often live a challenging life. Fifty percent of stroke survivors over 65 suffer from reduced mobility, making stroke one of the leading causes of serious long-term disability.
The biggest tragedy surrounding strokes is that approximately 90 percent are preventable with simple lifestyle modifications. This means that most stroke victims could have avoided their situation had they received the right kind of healthcare and education to make different choices.
While your doctor might tell you that you should take medication to reduce your chances of having this catastrophic health event, the truth is that there are better ways to naturally prevent a stroke.
What is a stroke?
Stroke is a disease affecting the arteries that lead to the brain. A stroke, medically referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a medical emergency in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted. A stroke is similar to a heart attack in that tissue dies due to the lack of oxygen. This is why a stroke is often called a brain attack.
There are two primary types of strokes:
- Hemorrhagic stroke
Hemorrhagic strokes occur due to a brain’s burst or leaking blood vessel. 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.
What causes a stroke?
Many factors contribute to stroke, some of which are under our control and others that aren’t. For instance, as a general rule, stroke risk increases with age. In terms of gender, stroke risk is slightly higher for younger women and older men. There are many racial disparities for stroke as well.
Regarding modifiable risk factors, the leading cause of stroke is high blood pressure. As the name hypertension suggests, high blood pressure results in too much tension in the blood vessels, weakening them. Damaged blood vessels are prone to narrowing or leaking, which may lead to strokes.
In addition to high blood pressure, strokes can be caused by:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Poorly managed blood glucose levels
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Heart conditions, such as AFib
- Coronary artery disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
Is there medication to reduce my risk for a stroke?
If you are at high risk for a stroke, your doctor has probably recommended medication to reduce your risk. But unfortunately, very little evidence exists that pharmaceuticals are effective in preventing stroke.
For example, many individuals with high cholesterol are prescribed statins. Doctors claim that statins lower cholesterol and thus reduce the risk of stroke. However, these assertions are baseless. Scientific evidence reveals that statins barely lower stroke risk and are not without significant dangers.
Since individuals with AFib are at higher risk for stroke, doctors often recommend they take blood thinners or aspirin. And while there may occasionally be a time and place for these drugs, they often do more harm than good.
In fact, earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a volunteer group of experts who review research and make recommendations around preventive care, released shocking new guidelines.
According to the task force’s draft guidelines, adults over 60 without a previous heart attack or stroke should not take daily aspirin. According to the recommendations, the risk of bleeding associated with everyday aspirin use far exceeds the possible cardiac benefit. For adults between the ages of 40-59, a careful risk assessment and conversation with your doctor should determine whether or not aspirin is a good choice.
Those with AFib attempting to determine if blood thinning medication is right for them can utilize the Chadsvasc score. This scoring methodology helps calculate stroke risk based on several common factors that may increase the odds of a blood clot and potential stroke.
For those who choose to avoid medications, there are many natural approaches.
7 natural strategies to prevent a stroke
Check your diet
The most significant risk factor for strokes is high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure naturally through diet is the best strategy for reducing stroke risk. The absolute best way to prevent a stroke is to eat an organic, whole-food-based diet.
First, increase your consumption 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, remember to increase your intake of wild-caught fish and seafood. The omega-3s, such as EPA and DHA, prevent sticky blood and assist with healthy blood flow.
Catch some rays
Medicine has only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding just how vital the sun is for health, especially for the heart. For example, multiple studies have found that sun exposure lowers blood pressure.
Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which most Americans are deficient. A recent study found that individuals with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease than those with sufficient levels.
Beyond vitamin D, human skin contains nitrate, and when exposed to UVA sun rays, this nitrate is released into the blood, becoming nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, playing a critical role in helping to lower blood pressure.
Move your body
Exercise is imperative for maintaining healthy blood pressure and reducing stroke risk. There is substantial evidence from high-quality studies that indicate that physical activity substantially lowers stroke risk. So walk, run, hike, swim, or bike your way daily to stroke prevention.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Approximately 90 percent of blood is made up of water. Without enough fluids, blood thickens and moves slowly. Studies have found that dehydration may be a contributing factor in the development of a stroke.
Keeping the body hydrated with high-quality water helps to ensure that the blood is moving smoothly, thus reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke.
Don’t skimp on sleep
Sleep enables our body to repair, restore, and reenergize from a hard day’s work. Science has established a link between sleep duration and blood pressure.
Studies have shown that individuals who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of elevated blood pressure. Moreover, multiple studies have established a link between poor sleep and increased stroke risk. Therefore, aim for seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep to prevent strokes.
Let’s face it, most of us are facing stress regularly. But unfortunately, increased stress translates to a higher risk for stroke. Stress triggers a cascade of physiological events that lead to inflammation.
Research shows that acute and chronic stress increases the risk of a CVA. Therefore, finding ways to reduce stress, such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, may help to ward off stroke risk.
Reduce your toxic load
We live in a toxic world. Sadly, exposure to these toxins manifests in physical conditions, such as strokes. For example, a 2021 review found that exposure to pollution is responsible for 14 percent of all stroke-associated deaths. That’s huge!
One of the best ways to lower stroke risk is to check your environment. Since indoor air pollution is more dangerous than outdoor air, consider all the products you bring into your home. Use only natural or organic cleaning products, cosmetics, and household goods. In addition, consider investing in a high-quality air purifier.
Having a stroke is a major, catastrophic event. Many lose their lives to strokes, and survivors face a long road to healing. Regrettably, nine out of ten of these health catastrophes could have been avoided.
If you are worried about your stroke risk, consider scheduling a free 20-minute health coaching strategy call with a Natural Heart Doctor health coach. Together you can discuss your health concerns and map out a plan for risk reduction. If you’re already taking pharmaceuticals to reduce stroke risk, a health consultant can help determine if natural supplements are a better option.
Eat well, Live well, Think well
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza 2022