One day, out of the blue, Vics world went dark and silent. He was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined hed had a stroke. A second stroke followed on the heels of the first, and when he finally left the hospital, he had severe mobility, vision, hearing, and speech problems.
One day, out of the blue, Vic’s world went dark and silent. He was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined he’d had a stroke. A second stroke followed on the heels of the first, and when he finally left the hospital, he had severe mobility, vision, hearing, and speech problems.
After a month in a rehab centre, Vic’s wife was told that there was no hope of further improvement and her best bet was to put her husband in a nursing home.
Scenarios similar to Vic’s are not uncommon. More than 50,000 times a year–once every 10 minutes, according to the Canadian Stroke Network–someone in Canada suffers a stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada reports that about 300,000 Canadians live with the effects of stroke, making it a leading cause of death and long-term disability.
Here’s what you can do to reduce your risk of stroke–and to reverse damage and regain function if you’ve already had a stroke.
A stroke is caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain. This may be due to a blood clot lodged in a blood vessel, or less frequently, the rupture of a vessel in the brain. Whatever the cause, strokes deprive brain cells of oxygen, which leads to cell damage and death.
The number one risk factor for stroke is hypertension. Elevated blood pressure is hard on the blood vessels, making them more prone to rupture and increasing the likelihood of a clot disrupting blood flow. It goes without saying that the single most important preventive measure is blood pressure control. While conventional physicians use drugs to lower blood pressure, I treat most of my patients with a natural regimen of regular exercise, weight loss, a therapeutic diet, and targeted nutrients.
The Preventive Power of Potassium
The key nutrient for lowering blood pressure and protecting against stroke is potassium which balances sodium levels.
Humans evolved on a diet abundant in potassium and low in sodium. Experts estimate that our Paleolithic ancestors ate a potassium-to-sodium ratio of 16:1. Today, thanks to salt-laden processed foods, that ratio is a decidedly unhealthy 1:1.
To protect against stroke, lower blood pressure, and improve overall health, aim for a potassium-to-sodium ratio of about 4:1–four times more potassium than sodium. You can achieve this by going easy on salt and increasing your potassium intake.
Start by eating more fruits and vegetables, which contain plenty of potassium and little sodium. Drink a couple of glasses of low-sodium vegetable juice daily–it’s an excellent source of concentrated potassium. And replace regular salt with potassium chloride. If you don’t like the taste of potassium chloride salt substitutes, mix one part table salt with three parts potassium salt.
Do not underestimate the power of potassium. Often overlooked, this nutrient has been shown in numerous scientific studies to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of stroke. Harvard researchers followed a group of nearly 44,000 men for eight years and found that those with the highest potassium intake (from tomatoes, bananas, spinach, oranges, and other produce) had a 38 percent lower stroke risk than men with the lowest intake.
When It’s Too Late for Prevention
It’s great to talk about prevention, but for many it’s too late. The first thing you need to know about stroke recovery is the importance of seeking treatment as soon as you recognize symptoms of stroke. Clot-busting drugs are very effective in restoring blood flow and minimizing damage–provided that they are administered within three hours of symptom onset.
The bad news is that fewer than one in 10 patients receives these drugs, often because they don’t recognize the symptoms of a stroke and fail to get immediate medical attention.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
After the initial treatment period for stroke, most patients are referred for physical therapy, but beyond that, they are given little hope of further recovery. But an effective treatment is available that should be offered to every stroke patient: hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). This therapy, which simply involves breathing 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized environment, has profound regenerative effects.
Oxygen delivered under pressure dissolves in all of the body’s fluids, including the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain. This massive influx of oxygen wakes up damaged cells. HBOT also stimulates angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels that restore normal blood supply.
Perhaps most important, HBOT jump-starts the healing process. It signals DNA to turn on the production of growth factors and repair hormones that hone in on damaged neurons. HBOT also mobilizes stem cells that reside in the bone marrow and can be rallied into action to repair damaged tissues.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine recently discovered that just one HBOT treatment doubles concentrations of stem cells in the blood, and a full course increases them eightfold.
The only downside is the availability and expense of HBOT. Inexplicably, hospitals usually restrict use of this well-established medical treatment to a handful of conditions such as decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, and skin grafts. You may find a hyperbaric chamber more accessible through the office of a certified hyperbaric physician. To locate one in your area, call the office of your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Getting back to Vic’s story, his wife refused to entertain the idea of putting him in a nursing home. She researched her options, called my clinic, and brought her husband in for HBOT.
The last time we saw Vic he still had a little trouble with his balance, but he was out of his wheelchair, walking at least a mile a day, and had returned to most of his former activities.
Symptoms of Stroke
- one-sided paralysis
- sudden loss of speech or vision
- dim, blurred, or lost vision
- numbness or tingling in mouth or cheeks
- difficulty speaking or swallowing
- weakness in legs and arms
- headache in back of head
- nausea and vomiting
Did You Know?
- Sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for stroke. It triples risk of hypertension, elevates levels of clotting factors, and reduces oxygen delivery to the brain. If you snore, get evaluated for sleep apnea.
- Harvard researchers found that eating broiled or baked fish reduces risk of stroke by up to one-third. Fried fish raises risk, however.
- Moderate amounts of alcohol protect against stroke. In a 14-year study of more than 38,000 men, the lowest risk was among men who drank one or two drinks daily three or four times a week.
- Nutritional supplements that may reduce risk of stroke include antioxidants (protects against free-radical damage), fish oil (improves blood flow and curbs inflammation), and B-complex vitamins (lowers homocysteine, a risk factor for stroke).