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Striking out Stroke

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You could call it a 'brain attack.'#157; Stroke - the fourth leading cause of death in Canada - happens when the brain's oxygen supply is cut off, destroying vital nerve cells. Fifty thousand Canadians suffer from stroke each year, and about 16,000 of them die..

You could call it a "brain attack." Stroke the fourth leading cause of death in Canada happens when the brain's oxygen supply is cut off, destroying vital nerve cells. Fifty thousand Canadians suffer from stroke each year, and about 16,000 of them die.

Types of Stroke

There are two types of strokes. The most common is an ischemic stroke, which happens when the blood flow is blocked, and not enough oxygen is able to get to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is usually caused by high blood pressure, and happens when the artery supplying blood and oxygen to the brain bursts because of a weakness in the vessel wall.

Assessing the Risks

While there are some uncontrollable risk factors associated with strokes, such as age, gender (men have a higher risk than women), and family history, there are various underlying factors that can be controlled and prevented. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is the biggest risk factor for ischemic stroke. It is linked to high cholesterol which contributes to the development of plaque and increases the risk of stroke.

High blood pressure is the single most important modifiable risk factor for stroke. Sixty-five percent of all strokes are associated with high blood pressure, yet a shocking 42 percent of Canadians are unaware they even have high blood pressure because they do not experience any symptoms. Diagnosis and careful monitoring is the key.

Other risk factors include diabetes (diabetics have a two to four times greater risk of stroke), heart disease, smoking, inactivity, alcohol consumption, hormone replacement therapy, and hormone imbalance.

Pathway to Prevention

People who have had an ischemic stroke are often prescribed acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) to reduce their risk of another stroke. However, an Aspirin a day is not for everyone. The good news is there are herbal and alternative options that have been substantiated by research.

Fish oils: In 2001, the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that women who eat more fish have a lower risk of stroke. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish work to decrease blood clotting.

Potassium: Foods rich in potassium such as bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, dried apricots, and potatoes may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, and possibly even stroke.

Antioxidants:  These are vital in helping to prevent against cellular damage. Damaged cells, especially in the blood vessels, can be a precursor to atherosclerosis. Vitamins C, E and beta carotene were once considered to be the best antioxidants, but research has unveiled a host of other potent antioxidants.

Polyphenols like grape seed extract help prevent free radicals and blood vessel damage.

Research has shown that pomegranate juice has antioxidant potential even superior to grape seed extract. It has been shown to decrease cholesterol, blood pressure, and prevent the development of atherosclerosis.

Other potent antioxidants include black raspberry, wild blueberry, blackberry, and green tea.

Overall, a healthy lifestyle, controlling your weight, and taking the appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements can go a long way toward preventing a stroke.

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