If someone close to you has already had a stroke then you’ll know that it’s probably one of the worst things that can happen to you in life. Only 1 in 10 people make a full physical and mental recovery while the remainder suffer disabling effects and almost 40% die in the months that follow.
What’s worse is there are no early warning signs of the momentous event to come. It’s brutal and unpredictable. One day, a fatty plaque becomes detached from a blood vessel wall and gets quietly carried along in the bloodstream until it finally becomes stuck in a narrowed artery. That’s the moment everything gets turned upside down: the plaque’s obstruction of the vessel abruptly interrupts the blood supply with the result that thousands of nerve cells, which literally depend on this artery to survive, are deprived of oxygen.
If nothing is done in the hours that follow, the nerve cells die of asphyxia, eliminating a large part of the neuronal circuits responsible for complex functions such as tactile sensitivity, speech, balance … If the damage is not too great and the victim is still young, neuronal plasticity enables these circuits to be rebuilt, though it does take time. If not, which is more often the case, nothing is ever the same again.
The consequences of a stroke are truly frightening and it’s hardly surprising that most people don’t want to hear about them: they secretly hope that they’ll slip through the net. But by refusing to face reality, they put themselves at an unnecessarily increased risk. Stroke does not tend to be a chance occurrence: studies show that simple dietary measures can lower the risk by 80%.
Imagine that you are asked to pick a card at random from a pack of 100 which contains 1 black card and 99 white ones. Clearly, the probability that you’ll pick the one black card is very low (1%).
Imagine now that you had to do this same exercise every year for 30 years. The risk would still be low but it would be repeated over time so that after 30 years, you’d have had a 3 in 10 chance of picking this black card at least once.
If you imagine now that the likelihood of drawing the black card is increased by 80% for one instance. The risk still appears to be low: less than 2 in 100 (1.8%). However, over the long-term, this difference becomes huge: over a 30 year period, your chance of picking the black card at some point would increase from 3 in 10 to nearly 5 in 10.
That’s exactly what happens with stroke. Given that the factors which increase or decrease the risk of stroke have little effect in the short-term, there’s a tendency to think that lowering one’s risk requires too much effort in relation to the results achieved, plus there’s the fact that chance is an ever-present factor.
But the truth is that in the long-term, these factors are significant.
It’s estimated we have around a 20% lifetime chance of suffering a stroke.
But this figure is an average: over the long-term, various elements can affect our individual risk enormously. So while for some people the likelihood of being a stroke victim will be only 10% (because they’re exposed to fewer risk factors), for others it could easily be 60% depending on their lifestyle (high salt consumption, physical inactivity ...).
What’s more, unlike the card example, the probability of having a stroke increases as our age advances: we know that after the age of 55, the risk doubles with each decade (1), and also that type 2 diabetes raises the risk by 200-600% (2) and hypertension by 1000% (3)...
So if we know that there are a number of determinants which increase the likelihood of having a stroke such as physical inactivity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, are there any factors which have the opposite, ie, positive, effect on risk?
There are at least three such factors which can be easily incorporated into your life and which also offer major benefits for many other diseases.
A group of scientists reviewed almost 400 studies published over the last 30 years in order to ascertain the kind of diet that can best help prevent stroke (4). It seems there are three main steps which can help cut the risk of stroke by at least 80%.
This is without doubt the best way of reducing the risk of stroke.
In 2017, this group of researchers from Birmingham University showed for the first time that low potassium intake promoted rigidity of arteries but that increasing its intake helped prevent the calcification process (5).
Though potassium is found in almost all fruits and vegetables, the sharp decline in consumption of these foods has undoubtedly contributed to the huge rise in incidence of stroke … While requirements for potassium are estimated at 4700mg a day, it’s thought that actual intake in Western societies may barely reach 2300mg in women and 3100mg in men (6).
Foods rich in potassium: all fruits, vegetables and pulses, particularly white beans, pumpkin, spinach and bananas.
Potassium supplements: Potassium Bicarbonate (officially recognised for optimising and maintaining normal blood pressure (7))
The second observation made by the researchers conducting the meta-analysis was that people with a high magnesium intake had a lower risk of stroke.
The body needs this mineral to function properly. It is vital for cardiac function: it plays a direct role in the metabolism of fats and helps regulate blood pressure, two mechanisms involved in stroke. It is magnesium’s dilating effect on blood vessels which is probably its key benefit in reducing the risk of stroke.
Foods rich in magnesium: in general, pulses, seeds and nuts, and in particular, soya beans, almonds, spinach and chocolate.
Magnesium supplements: OptiMag (which contains eight different forms of magnesium) to be taken with food.
A more recent meta-analysis that looked specifically at stroke and cardiovascular problems showed that supplements of vitamin B9 (also called folate) reduce the risk of stroke by between 20% and 70%.
This is hardly surprising: vitamin B9 (folate) supplements such as SuperFolate are already officially recognised for optimising and forming blood cells (8). Vitamin B9 is also found in meat and vegetables but levels are significantly depleted by cooking, storing and freezing.
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