Healthypedia
Lillian Wilson

Stroke Prevention: Science-Backed Strategies to Lower Your Risk

Stroke kills 12 million people annually and spoils life even after recovery. Luckily, you can lower risk of it through healthy habits.

Woman,Hands,Holding,Human,Brain,Shape,Made,From,Paper,On

Stroke is a disease that may make life miserable in only a few minutes. Even worse, strokes often affect the lives of people around you.

Stroke does not exclude; strokes can affect anyone, even the most powerful and healthy individuals. In 1919 the president of the U.S. experienced a severe stroke. For 17 months Woodrow Wilson laid in his bed near death, barely able to write his own name and the world knew none of it. The seriousness of the stroke was kept secret from the Cabinet, Congress, and the American people. Because Woodrow was reluctant to resign and his wife Edith secretly overtook his responsibilities. This decision posed the risk to the welfare of the United States. After the event of stroke, the president was left disabled and passed away a few years later.

Stroke is #2 killer in the World

According to the World Health Organization, stroke occupies the runner-up position in the list of top killers of humans. Annually, 12.2 million people worldwide are expected to have their first stroke and 6.5 million will die as a result. Over 110 million people in the world have already experienced a stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or something blocks the blood supply to part of the brain. Both cases can result in brain damage or even death.

The effects of a stroke can be experienced in the short or long-term, depending on which part of the brain is affected and how quickly it is treated. People who have had a stroke can experience a variety of impairments, including difficulties with mobility and language, as well as the way they think and feel. Short-term stroke survivors may only experience weak arms or legs, whereas those who suffer long-term strokes may develop paralysis, lose the ability to speak, or, as is too often the case, die.

Occasionally, a blood clot only lasts for a moment, too brief to notice, but just long enough to kill a tiny portion of your brain. It is possible for these so-called silent strokes to multiply and slowly deteriorate cognitive function until dementia is fully manifested.

Five main risk factors of a stroke

There are factors that may make you more vulnerable to a stroke. National Heart, Lung, and Blood institution highlights the next main factors:

1High blood pressure

HBP is the main cause of stroke. It causes blood vessels to weaken and damages their walls. The condition can result in blood clots or plaques breaking off artery walls and blocking arteries in the brain. Studies suggest that uncontrolled blood pressure may contribute to 45% of stroke cases.

45% of stroke cases are due to high blood pressure Source: AHA Journals

2Diabetes

Your body cannot properly process food if you have diabetes. Insulin cannot be produced or used correctly by your body, which results in elevated levels of glucose in your blood (sugar). Glucose levels that are too high can damage the blood vessels in the body, increasing stroke risk. A study showed that 23 to 53% of stroke victims have prediabetes, while 14 to 46% have diabetes.

3High bad cholesterol level

When low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels are too high, it builds up on the walls of the arteries and narrows them. This is called atherosclerosis. Because of this narrowing the flow of blood can be blocked leading to blood clots that can cause a stroke.

4Obesity

Excess fat in the body causes inflammation, resulting in poor blood flow and possible blockages, which are two major causes of stroke. Plus, being overweight is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar which all increase stroke risks.

5Smoking

You are more likely to suffer a stroke if you smoke since it increases blood pressure and reduces oxygen in the blood. The stickiness of the blood is also increased by smoking. As a result, blood clots are more likely to form.

Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. Secondhand smoking increases the very risk by 20-30%. Annually, 8,000 deaths are attributed to secondhand smoke exposure.

Main signs of stroke

In order to help yourself and those around you, you need to know the main features of a stroke. The main symptoms are the following:

  • The feeling of weakness or numbness on one side of the body, especially in the face, arm, or leg.

  • An inability to speak or understand speech suddenly.

  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

  • Problems with walking, loss of balance and coordination.

  • Severe headache.

Five Habits to Prevent or Significantly Reduce the Risk of Stroke

When facing any disease we tend to pop into the chemist’s and buy mountains of pills and other treatments to reduce the symptoms and calm ourselves down. In the case of stroke, there are many medications that may reduce its risk and recurrence.

The main issue is that medical treatment poses various side effects that may have detrimental consequences. For example, well-known Warfarin may interact with many other medicines and some foods. Blood-thinning medication may lead to bruising and bleeding. Cholesterol-lowering medication (statins) may result in muscle pain and weakness.

It is definitely better to prevent the very disease by implementing the following healthy habits and lifestyle changes.

1Feast on plants

In comparison to medical treatment of the disease, prevention of the stroke risk by a healthy diet is not followed by a myriad of after-effects. Here is a list of products that may enhance your health and lower the risk of stroke.

Eat plants high in fibre

Fibre is one of your best friends to prevent stroke. Studies show that high fibre intake may also help ward off stroke. Just a 7-gram increase in fibre intake is associated with a 7% drop in stroke likelihood. What is good about fibre is that it is easy to incorporate into your daily diet. An additional seven grams of fibre is the equivalent of a bowl of oatmeal with berries or a serving of baked beans.

Fibre helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which can help reduce the amount of artery-clogging plaque in your brain’s blood vessels. High-fibre diets can also lower blood pressure which reduces the risk of bleeding in the brain.

So keep in mind that simple steps like eating one extra apple, a quarter cup of broccoli, or just two tablespoons of beans per day can show meaningful results in terms of your artery health later on in your life.

Scientists suggest that 25 grams of soluble fibre (the one that is dissolved in water) can decently diminish the risk of stroke. Beans, oat, nuts, and berries are good sources of soluble fibre.

Eat foods rich in potassium

Every cell in your body needs potassium to function, and you have to get it from your diet.

The study shows that a 1,640 mg increase in daily potassium intake was associated with a 21% decline in stroke risk. Plants that are high in potassium are bananas, oranges, apricots, grapefruit, and cooked spinach.

Eat citrus to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of stroke

Who does not love oranges? They taste great and are usually associated with the festive season. The good news for those who fancy citrus fruits are that not only will they satisfy cravings but will bring about positive effects for your brain. Citrus fruit intake has been associated with reduced stroke risk. The key to citrus being so successful brain helper is that has a citrus phytonutrient called hesperidin, which increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain.

The study showed that compared to women who ate the least citrus fruit, those who ate the most citrus fruit had a 19% lower risk of having an ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke which is caused by blood clots blocking or narrowing brain arteries.

Healthhack from Healthypedia

Drinking Orange juice and eating oranges are 2 very different things. We strongly recommend eating oranges and not substituting them with orange juice because the fruit has more nutritional value, and a bigger amount of fibre, plus an orange intake doesn’t lead to a drastic glucose spike if compared to juice.

Eat berries and greens high in antioxidants to improve circulation and ward off stroke

When circulating in the bloodstream oxidized fats can damage the walls of small blood vessels in the brain. To prevent this a diet rich in products high in antioxidants is a must. Antioxidants can boast a vast majority of positive effects on your blood circulation, especially because they may decrease artery stiffness, prevent blood clots from forming, and lower blood pressure and inflammation. Berries and greens are high in antioxidants products. By enriching your diet with them you will ward off stroke and other diseases related to ageing.

Swedish researchers followed more than thirty thousand elderly women for a decade and found that those who ate the most antioxidant-rich foods had the lowest risk of stroke.

2Have enough sleep to protect yourself from stroke

Lack of sleep, or even too much of it, is associated with an increased risk for strokes. But how much should you sleep to not end up in a risk group?

Japanese scientists began following nearly 100,000 middle-aged Japanese people for fourteen years. People who sleep less than seven hours, or more than ten hours, have a higher chance of stroke death by about 50%.

A recent study of 150,000 Americans was able to examine the issue more thoroughly. Higher stroke rates were found among individuals who sleep six hours or less, or nine hours or more. Those at the lowest risk got around seven or eight hours of sleep a night.

Getting 7-8 hours of shuteye is a golden means to recharge your batteries and protect yourself from a stroke. Sleep tight!

3Exercise

Inactivity can also pose a threat to the development of a stroke. Exercising regularly can benefit your health in many ways. In order to maintain good health, adults should engage in at least 2.5 hours of aerobic activity each week. To achieve this, it is enough to go for a few brisk walks a week.

According to a study, high levels of leisure-time physical activity reduce stroke risks by 20–25%, compared to inactivity during free time. The same research showed that high and moderate levels of physical activity at work were associated with a stroke risk reduction of 43% and 36% respectively.

Stroke survivors can benefit from regular exercise in many ways, including reducing their risk of having another stroke, developing dementia, improving their recovery, managing fatigue and enhancing their general well-being.

1 in 4 people is at high risk of having a stroke in their lifetime and by taking simple steps, many strokes can be prevented.

4Do not start or quit smoking

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and the brain is not an exception. Tobacco smoke contains myriad detrimental chemicals which change and damage cells and affect how your body works. These changes affect your circulatory system and increase your risk of stroke.

  • Smoking increases the levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol

  • Monoxide and nicotine, contained by smoke from cigarettes, reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood and rise blood pressure

  • Chemicals in tobacco smoke also make your blood more prone to clotting.

The study showed a dose-dependent link between smoking and overall stroke risk. The very risk was 12% higher for each addition of 5 cigarettes per day.

5Drink alcohol in moderation only

Drinking large amounts of alcohol significantly increases your chances of having a stroke. Alcohol consumption is accompanied by many medical conditions that cause strokes, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and plaque buildup in the arteries that narrow the blood vessels. Drinking too much also promotes atrial fibrillation – an irregular heartbeat that increases stroke risk by 5 times.

Multiple studies were conducted on the subject. The results vary depending on the type of stroke. Ischemic stroke risk was lower with light and moderate alcohol consumption but increased with high and heavy consumption. The risk of hemorrhagic stroke did not increase with light or moderate alcohol consumption, but it did spike with high alcohol consumption.

So, the best is to drink in moderation as this will not lead to any detrimental results and can slightly decreases risks.

How to keep stroke away?

Stroke is a burden of modern society and this is the second leading cause of death in globally. Even though the medical treatment could be pretty efficient it is accompanied by unpleasant side effects. Luckily, there are various ways of treating and preventing the very illness. The best thing is to avert stroke by making very healthy choices which we discussed in detail in this article. They have scientifically proven positive effects and give much wider benefits than just a reduction in stroke risk.

If you use all of them you can significantly minimise the risk. Remember, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time, so it is important to be proactive about your health.

Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues

If you want to learn more about stroke, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only it provides insight into preventing and dealing with stroke and other severe conditions but also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. The very article is inspired by this book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.

How not to die Book Cover

What happens to the brain during a stroke? The information you need to be able to distinguish stroke signs and help others.


Healthypedia FAQ

A stroke may cause weakness on one side of the body; numbness or tingling in one arm or leg; difficulty speaking; difficulty understanding speech; vision problems (blurred vision); trouble walking; confusion; and severe headache with no known cause.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity. Fortunately, these are all controllable through lifestyle changes like exercise or eating healthier foods.

There are many things you can do to help prevent a stroke, such as eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.It's important to maintain a healthy weight, control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and not smoke. You should also avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The elderly are more likely to experience a stroke. There's a high chance of getting a stroke in your 50s. This is often due to higher blood pressure or heart disease, even though the risk doesn't go up until a person's 50s. Stroke is not just a risk for seniors but can happen to younger adults as well. Regardless of age, it is important to be aware of the warning signs and pay attention to changes in mood, symptoms and personality that may indicate a need for medical attention.

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