What is a Stroke?
A stroke is the result of loss of blood flow, and subsequent oxygen, to part of the brain. Decreased blood flow to parts of the brain can be caused by blockage, often from blood clots (ischemic stroke), or by the rupture of a brain blood vessel and subsequent hemorrhaging (hemorrhagic stroke). Strokes are one of the top causes of death and disability.
Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are severe and life-threatening. Other less severe types of strokes include transient ischemic attacks (“mini strokes” that resolve within 24 hours) and “silent” strokes that do not cause overt stroke-like symptoms.
Natural interventions such as olive leaf extract and olive oil as well as certain B-vitamins can help reduce the risk of a stroke.
Note: Emergency treatment within 4.5 hours of the onset of a stroke is essential. If you or someone you know exhibit any signs of a stroke, immediately call 911.
What are the Risk Factors for Stroke?
- Genetic factors
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol
- Insulin resistance/glucose intolerance
- Sleep apnea
- History of stroke or transient ischemic attack, and others
What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke?
- Sudden numbness or weakness in face or limbs, usually on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding
- Sudden loss of vision
- Sudden severe headache with no apparent cause
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, or loss of balance
Note: If you or someone you know experience stroke-like symptoms call 911 immediately, even if you are unsure whether a stroke occurred.
What are the Conventional Medical Treatments for Stroke?
- Emergency treatments for ischemic stroke:
- Intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) (ie, an enzyme that leads to clot breakdown)
- Aspirin and antiplatelet agents
- Secondary ischemic stroke prevention may include antiplatelet therapy such as low-dose aspirin or anticoagulant therapy such as warfarin. For patients who cannot take blood thinners, a surgical procedure called left atrial appendage occlusion is another option.
- Emergency treatments for hemorrhagic stroke:
- Surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the blood outside blood vessels
- Vitamin K if the patient was taking warfarin, to counteract its effects
- Nimodipine to control vasospasm and lower blood pressure
- Secondary hemorrhagic stroke prevention may include medications to control blood pressure.
What Natural Interventions Can Help Prevent a Stroke?
Note: Adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet has been associated with reduced all-cause mortality and lower incidence of several age-related diseases, including stroke.
- Olive leaf and olive oil. Olive, an important constituent of the Mediterranean diet, has anti-hypertensive and anti-atherosclerotic effects. A study showed older subjects who consumed olive oil had a 41% lower risk of ischemic stroke than subjects who never consumed olive oil.
- Nattokinase. Nattokinase, an enzyme extracted from fermented soybeans, can help reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Nattokinase reduces the viscosity of blood, lowering blood pressure and clot risk.
- L-carnitine. L-carnitine, a cofactor in the metabolism of lipids, has been shown in preclinical studies to be neuroprotective.
- Vinpocetine. Vinpocetine is a derivative of vincamine, an extract from periwinkle. It has neuroprotective and cerebral blood flow-enhancing properties, as well as anti-inflammatory action.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is an independent risk factor for stroke in certain populations. A study also showed subjects with higher vitamin D levels had the lowest incidence of heart attack and stroke.
- Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. Treatment with these B-vitamins can lower stroke risk and overall stroke incidence. A review found that B-vitamin supplementation reduces stroke risk by approximately 12%.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have cerebrovascular protective abilities. In addition to clinical studies demonstrating cardioprotective abilities, a preclinical study found treatment with the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) decreased mouse brain damage after an ischemic stroke.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA improves arterial dilation and protects against endothelial dysfunction. Higher levels of a DHEA metabolite have been associated with less severe strokes.
- Other natural interventions that may reduce the risk of stroke include garlic, vitamin C, flavonoids (eg, resveratrol), and rutin.