Know which risk factors for stroke are manageable
Blocked arteries, ruptured blood vessels, or blood clots can cause a stroke. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) may help with stroke prevention and recovery. CAM treatments can include massage, dietary supplements, or acupuncture to manage stress.
Uncontrollable risk factors are:
- a family history of stroke
- a personal history of stroke
If you think you’re having a stroke, call 911 or local emergency services.
Common controllable risk factors for stroke include:
- the use of alcohol or illicit drugs, such as cocaine
- a lack of exercise or physical activity
- a poor diet
- an unhealthy weight
- poor cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure
- the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, but not aspirin
According to a 50-year study of strokes in India, where strokes are more common than in Western countries, managing the risk factors for stroke was the best option for prevention. One-third of the people in their sample size 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 population.
Evidence doesn’t suggest that CAM treatments are better than medical treatments. CAM treatments shouldn’t replace any treatments your doctor has prescribed. 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 taking CAM treatments.
What to eat
Your doctor may prescribe medication for lowering cholesterol and may recommend a heart-healthy lifestyle. You should regularly eat or drink the following to help you reach your health goals.
Black or green tea
Drinking at least three cups of black or green tea per day may help reduce your risk of stroke. Tea flavonoids, which are plant nutrients, can help decrease cholesterol and blood pressure. Researchers in one study found that people who drank that amount of green or black tea had far fewer incidences of repeated stroke.
Black tea may be especially helpful for diabetes management. The compounds in black tea mimic the effects of insulin and prevent starch from turning into sugar.
Fruits and vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables isn’t just good for your physical health. Researchers in a recent study found that eating more fruit may increase happiness and well-being as quickly as the next day. Increasing your intake to 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. Adding 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 the statin’s side effects, such as muscle pain.
Ways to start moving
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 that practices slow and graceful movements in a semi-squatting position. Research shows that tai chi helps improve body balance and reduces depression and anxiety. Researchers in one study about tai chi and stroke prevention in seniors are currently exploring if tai chi has a role as a protective measure against ischemic stroke.
Maintaining a healthy weight and body fat ratio or body mass index is a good way to manage many risk factors. If most of the fat rests around the waist instead of the hips, then there’s a greater risk for 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 higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, weight loss can:
- improve blood pressure readings
- lower cholesterol
- lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- lower body fat
Visit your doctor to find out your ideal healthy weight.
Don’t stress out
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 a technique wrapping cuffs around the hips, thighs, and calves. These cuffs inflate and deflate, giving you 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.
Here are other ways you can relax:
- fun hobbies, such as reading or playing board games
- positive self-talk
- getting enough rest
Benefits of acupuncture
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 the same points as acupuncture but without needles.
There isn’t enough scientific evidence on acupuncture’s effectiveness for stroke prevention. But some studies have revealed overall improvements in people’s quality of life, including positive effects on mobility and emotional well-being. Acupuncture is considered safe when an experienced and licensed practitioner applies it.
Check your acupuncturist’s certifications if you’re interested 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
prevention or recovery
Taking vitamins, or nutritional, or herbal supplements may help with risk factors like high cholesterol and blood vessel damage. Some supplements may cause negative side effects when mixed with certain medications. Check with your doctor before taking any extra supplements.
Vitamins and nutrients
Little scientific evidence exists that suggests 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, vitamin B-12, and betaine, may help lower levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid linked with an increased risk of stroke if it’s at high levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may improve cholesterol levels.
- Vitamin C may help repair blood vessel damage and reduce plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Vitamin E may help improve diabetes and memory impairment.
- Vitamin D supplements 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.
- Alpha-lipoic acid may help prevent cell damage.
- Magnesium may help lower blood pressure.
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. These herbal supplements may improve blood circulation in the brain and help prevent another stroke:
- Bilberry may improve cholesterol and lower blood sugar.
- Garlic may prevent blood clotting and destroy plaque.
- Ginkgo may improve blood flow to the brain.
- Asian ginseng may improve memory and decreases diabetes risk.
- Turmeric may help lower cholesterol levels and may prevent the 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 like 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.