Understanding complementary and alternative treatments for stroke
Blocked arteries, ruptured blood vessels, or blood clots can cause a stroke.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) may help with stroke prevention and recovery. Examples of CAM treatments include massage, dietary supplements, or acupuncture to manage stress.
According to a 50-year study of strokes in India, where strokes are more common than in Western countries, managing the risk factors of stroke was the best option for prevention. One-third of the participants made education and lifestyle changes to control their risk factors. These changes proved to be the most effective way to prevent another stroke in this group.
Evidence doesn’t suggest that CAM treatments are better than medical treatments. In fact, CAM treatments haven’t been as well-studied as standard therapies. So CAM treatments shouldn’t replace any treatments your doctor has prescribed. If you think you’re having a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services.
But adding CAM treatments to your healthcare routine may help you reach health goals. For example, it may help lower your blood pressure faster.
Check with your doctor first before trying CAM treatments.
An important aspect of stroke prevention is understanding which risk factors can be controlled.
Uncontrollable risk factors are:
- a family history of stroke
- a personal history of stroke
Common controllable risk factors for stroke include:
Black or green tea
Tea contains plant nutrients called flavonoids, which can help decrease cholesterol and blood pressure. Drinking at least 3 cups of black or green tea per day may help reduce your risk of stroke. Researchers in one study found that people who drank this amount of green or black tea had far fewer incidences of repeated stroke.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables aren’t just good for your physical health. Researchers in a 2016 study found that eating more fruit may increase happiness and well-being as quickly as the next day. Eating eight portions per day may increase life satisfaction and help lower stress levels.
Pomegranate concentrate is high in antioxidants and phytosterols, which are plant steroids that lower cholesterol. Taking pomegranate concentrate with low-dose statin therapy or the regular use of cholesterol-lowering drugs can help reduce cholesterol, according to the Israeli Institute of Technology. It may also lessen a statin’s side effects, such as muscle pain.
Yoga is a good option for low-impact exercise.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, research findings suggest that yoga may improve stroke recovery, especially for people with balance issues or fear of falling. Yoga promotes smooth physical movements, improved breathing, and mental focus that may have been lost after a stroke.
Another popular exercise for stroke prevention and recovery is tai chi. Tai chi is a Chinese exercise consisting of slow and graceful movements practiced in a semi-squatting position.
Research from 2015 showed that tai chi helps improve body balance and reduces depression and anxiety. In 2017, many of those same researchers published a study suggesting that tai chi has a role as a protective measure against ischemic stroke in older adults.
Maintaining a healthy weight, and a healthy body fat ratio or body mass index (BMI), is a good way to manage many risk factors for stroke.
If most of a person’s body fat rests around the waist instead of the hips, then they have a greater risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches and men with a waist size greater than 40 inches also have a
The NHLBI states that weight loss can:
Visit your doctor to find out your ideal healthy weight.
High levels of stress are linked to a significantly increased risk of stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Learn relaxation techniques to reduce tension in your mind and body.
Massages can help increase blood flow to an affected area, especially for stroke-related muscle problems. In one study, massages decreased pain, increased health, and improved movement after stroke.
A few studies in China also found that external counterpulsation (ECP) treatments might encourage recovery in people who’ve had an ischemic stroke.
ECP treatments involve wrapping cuffs around the hips, thighs, and calves. These cuffs inflate and deflate, creating a massage-like sensation and helping blood flow to the brain.
Researchers at the S.H. Ho Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Centre in Hong Kong found that one-hour ECP treatments for 35 days increased blood pressure by 13 percent, heart function by 74 percent, and blood flow to the brain by 9 percent.
Other ways you can relax include:
Acupuncture involves a practitioner inserting small needles into specific points of the body. It’s known to help ease pain and manage other muscle problems affected by stroke. A similar therapy is acupressure, which uses pressure instead of needles on the same points as acupuncture.
There isn’t enough scientific evidence on acupuncture’s effectiveness for stroke prevention. But some
Acupuncture is considered safe when an experienced and licensed practitioner applies it.
Check your acupuncturist’s certifications if you’re interested in this therapy. A licensed acupuncturist will have a Master of Acupuncture, Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, or Doctor of Oriental Medicine certification. Look for the title licensed acupuncturist (LAc) too. Licensed acupuncturists have the training and skills to use acupuncture for health issues, such as:
- certain chronic diseases
- injured muscles
It’s suggested certain vitamins or supplements may help with risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood vessel damage. However, rigorous studies are still needed to support such claims.
Some supplements may cause negative side effects when used with certain medications. Check with your doctor before taking any extra nutritional or herbal supplements.
Vitamins and nutrients
Little scientific evidence exists that indicates supplements can prevent stroke directly. But some research suggests that they can help reduce risk and improve recovery. You may find benefits from taking the following:
- Folic acid, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12. Certain B vitamins could help to lower levels of the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are linked with an increased risk of stroke.
Researchshows that the amino acid betaine may lower levels of homocysteine.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin may aid in repairing blood vessel damage and reducing plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Vitamin D. Supplements of this vitamin may be beneficial because low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of artery-blocking strokes, especially in people with high blood pressure.
- Vitamin E. Taking supplements of vitamin E may help with memory impairment.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. In general, omega-3 fatty acids may improve cholesterol levels. One type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), may also prevent cell damage, according to a study performed on rats.
- Magnesium. The mineral magnesium may lower blood pressure, according to a study in the journal Hypertension.
The AHA recommends getting your vitamins and nutrients primarily through food rather than supplements.
Herbal supplements are a popular choice for people who prefer natural remedies. The following herbal supplements may improve blood circulation in the brain and help prevent another stroke:
- Ashwagandha. Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has antioxidant properties that may prevent and treat stroke. A 2015 study explored its effect on mice.
- Bilberry. This berry may improve cholesterol and
lower blood sugar.
- Garlic. Preventing blood clotting and destroying plaque are two potential benefits of garlic.
- Asian ginseng. A staple of Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng is said to improve memory.
- Gotu kola. This herb has been shown to boost cognitive function in people who’ve had strokes.
- Turmeric. A spice, turmeric may lower cholesterol levels and help prevent blockages in arteries.
You’ll want to avoid these supplements if you’re taking warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or any other blood-thinning medications. They’ll thin your blood even more. Always ask your doctor first before taking any additional supplements.
Using CAM treatments to manage controllable risk factors can be helpful for stroke prevention and recovery. Along with important lifestyle changes, treatments such as acupuncture or supplements can make a difference.
These treatments shouldn’t replace medical or surgical treatments, but they have the potential to help you reach certain health goals, such as lowering blood pressure. Tell your doctor if you’re considering CAM treatments. Some treatments may interact negatively with your medication.