9 ways to help prevent strokes

From poor diet and lack of exercise to smoking and drinking alcohol, there are many lifestyle traits which have been related to the occurrence of strokes.  Studies have also shown that conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disorders, all of which are affected by the way we live, are linked to the risk of strokes.

Here, lecturers from the College of Naturopathic Medicine share their expert tips on a healthier lifestyle.

1. Eat to keep your blood pressure in check

Your food choces can have a significant effect on blood pressure. By sticking to a few simple rules, you can help keep your blood pressure within a normal range.

Eat:

  • Foods that contain sulphur – such as garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Gut bacteria use the sulphur in foods to make hydrogen sulphide, which relaxes blood vessel walls and supports blood pressure regulation.
  • Celery – high in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure and also contains special compounds which help dilate the blood vessels and thin the blood.
  • Asparagus – has a natural diuretic effect which support fluid regulation and blood pressure management.
  • Strawberries, kiwi & dark coloured berries – increase the levels of vitamin C in your diet, an antioxidant important for cardiovascular health.

Avoid/Reduce:

  • Processed foods and added salt
  • Processed and refined sugars
  • Caffeine

2. Eat for healthy cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as ‘good’ cholesterol, believed to scour the walls of blood vessels, cleaning out excess ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Eat:

  • Fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils – contain beneficial soluble fibre, which can help support healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Oily fish, at least 3 times a week & a small handful of nuts or seeds daily – boost intake of essential fatty acids and help raise HDL levels.
  • Green vegetables & avocados (as well as oily fish, nuts and seeds) – boost Vitamin E intake, helping to improve balance of HDL/LDL cholesterol.
  • Oat bran and/or ground flaxseeds – include 2 heaped dessert spoons (added to porridge, muesli, smoothies or even savoury dishes like Bolognese, curry, etc.) in your diet every day to aid cholesterol reduction.
  • Lecithin – 2-3 heaped teaspoons of lecithin in your daily diet binds to cholesterol in the gut to aid its excretion from the body.
  • Turmeric & Cinnamon – these spices contain compounds which may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Avoid/Reduce

  • Red meat, pasteurised dairy & fried foods – to minimise your intake of saturated fats.

3. Beware of mental, emotional and physical stress

The risk of stroke is increased under stressful conditions, which may include working long hours without adequate rest, performing physically demanding tasks, such as heavy lifting or excessive exercise and sports activities, or ongoing emotional strain. During times of mild to moderate stress the body releases hormones that raise blood pressure and increase the blood’s ability to clot, thereby making it thicker and more likely to ‘stick’ to the inside of the blood vessels. Normally acute bouts of stress don’t cause long-term damage as, once the stress is alleviated or released in a healthy way (exercise, meditation), the hormone levels return to normal. Chronic unabated stress levels, however, promote an internal environment favourable to clot formation and potential stroke risk.

Reducing one’s stress levels or, at the very least, being mindful of stress levels, may help reduce stroke risk. A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner or Naturopath would recommend that it’s also important to overcome feelings of anger, hatred, resentment or repressed animosity, all of which can also contribute to the risk of stroke.

4. Practise Chi Gong & T’ai Chi

Chi Gong and T’ai Chi are forms of gentle but energising exercise. The controlled movements practised in these modalities can strengthen muscles, improve movement control and balance, and greatly increase the flow of Qi (life force) and blood in the joints, the brain and throughout the body. And, as an added benefit, they include the calming benefits of meditation.

5. Herbal Medicine

The plant kingdom is rich in herbal offerings to prevent and treat many of the conditions which can increase the likelihood of strokes.

  • Hawthorn – the leaves, flowers and berries of this plant increase blood supply to the heart muscle in ischaemic heart diseases such as angina, and reduce LDL cholesterol. Herbalists may prescribe hawthorn alongside natural diuretics such as dandelion leaf, which supports the release of excess fluid pressure via the kidneys, as well as nervous relaxants such as passionflower to minimise stress factors.
  • Guggul – is a resinous substance used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, to reduce cholesterol levels and consequent risk of hypertension, arterial damage and formation of emboli (clots), which can cause blockage of cerebral arteries.
  • Bilberry Fruit – contains powerful antioxidants to help keep blood vessels strong and healthy.
  • Ginkgo biloba – increases blood supply to the brain and helps reduce blood ‘stickiness’, a major factor in cerebral clot formation.

Please note: Because many herbs work on the same pathways as synthetic drugs, you need to be very careful about taking herbs at the same time as prescription or over the counter (OTC) medicication. Always consult a suitably qualified health practitioner and avoid self-prescribing.

6. Exercise is key

Studies have shown that those who are more physically active have a reduced risk of stroke.  It can be as easy as walking for just 2 hours a week; it helps exercise the heart muscle and lower the likelihood of suffering a stroke.

7. Look into the eyes

According to iridology, the major sign in the iris that can warn of a predisposition to stroke is the lipaemic annulus, sometimes known as the ‘cholesterol ring’. An opaque, white or cream-coloured narrow band round the outer zone of the iris, it can form a full or partial ring, often limited to the upper segment. Usually observed in older individuals, if it appears in your 30s or 40s, it may be an indication for cardiovascular disease or stroke.

8. Kinesiology

Kinesiology employs muscle testing, without the need for guesswork, to assess those contributing factors, including high blood pressure, stress, smoking and obesity, which may increase the risk of stroke in any individual. Similarly, muscle testing can be helpful in identifying whether herbs, dietary changes, stress management and/or exercise, for example, would assist each individual (everyone is biochemically different) to correct imbalances and restore health.

9. Supplement Support

Many supplements have been shown to help with stroke prevention, notably B vitamins, vitamins A, C and E, selenium and essential fatty acids.

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