- Learn how to reduce your risk of stroke by donating blood to reduce blood viscosity and strengthening blood vessels with vitamins and minerals
- Remember, too, to eat those fruits and veggies!
You probably know someone who’s had a stroke. Wheelchair-bound or walking with difficulty, not able to use an arm or a leg or both, unable to speak without great effort . . . what a tragic change from an able-bodied, self-reliant adult! Sometimes stroke victims recover to nearly 100%, but much more often, lifetime partial permanent impairment results from a stroke.
It’s not true that you can only have a stroke if you have high blood pressure. While high blood pressure is a major risk factor, men and women with perfectly normal blood pressure have strokes, too. But by applying some common sense, as well as by following the results of stroke research, you can significantly reduce your own risk of stroke!
A Few Words about Types of Strokes . . .
There are at least two “basic” types of stroke: “ischemic” (lack of blood flow to an area of the brain) and “hemorrhagic” (bleeding into an area of the brain). According to the information about strokes at the Mayo Clinic website,[i] approximately eighty-five percent of strokes are ischemic. The most common ischemic strokes are caused by a clot blocking an artery. The clot can be caused by cholesterol deposits (“plaque”), or a clot traveling from somewhere else, often the heart, which then gets stuck, blocking a brain artery.
“Hemorrhagic” strokes happen when an artery bursts, which could be due to weakness of the artery, excess pressure over time, or both. Occasionally, blood vessels burst because of an aneurysm—an “outpouching” of the artery, which could be congenital or could happen over time.
“Transient ischemic attacks” (very temporary blockages of blood vessels termed “ministrokes”) often don’t cause lasting symptoms but are a warning of greater risk of a permanent stroke in the future.
The #1 Way to Reduce Stroke Risk . . .
. . . as well as heart attack risk, is to donate blood! That’s because blood donation reduces the blood’s thickness (“viscosity”). Overly thick (“hyperviscous”) blood is abrasive to the branch points of arteries. Continuing abrasion causes inflammation; cholesterol forms a blanket over the inflammation, and begins the formation of plaque. If abrasion continues, more and more cholesterol accumulates; ultimately the accumulated cholesterol in the blood vessel is enough to block blood flow all by itself, or sometimes a bloodflow-blocking clot forms first.[ii]
Because of monthly menses, pre-menopausal women have practically no risk of overly thick blood, heart attack, or stroke. If you’re a man, or a woman a few or more years past menopause, check with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine to have your blood viscosity measured.[iii] (Unfortunately “mainstream” doctors have very little education about the danger of excessively thick blood, as no patentable substance is necessary for its treatment.) In addition to information about your blood thickness, the blood viscosity report contains a guide to treatment options (such as a suggested frequency of blood donation), which depends on the severity of any hyperviscosity found.
For many more details about very significantly reducing cardiovascular risk by blood donation, see Green Medicine Newsletter, June 2016.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major stroke risk factor. While there are many causes of high blood pressure, not one of them is a deficiency of a patent medicine or medicines! Common causes of hypertension include lower-than-optimal levels of vitamin D, a sodium/potassium imbalance, excess insulin secretion and insulin resistance (always present in prediabetes and diabetes type 2), toxic metals, and misalignment of upper cervical vertebrae.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s always wisest to check with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine to determine if you have one or more of these problems. (Yes, many hypertensive individuals have more than one cause of this problem.) However, there are many things you can start doing about these problems on your own!
Vitamin D regulates blood pressure.[iv] Get enough sunshine (and ignore the nonsense about constant use of sunscreen—see the May 2016 issue of Green Medicine for better ideas) and take enough vitamin D to achieve the “tropical optimal” vitamin D level, 60-100 nanograms per milliliter. Vitamin D lowers blood pressure by safely regulating the same enzyme pathway that’s also regulated by patent medications called “ACE inhibitors” (Altace, Lotensin, Zestril, Accupril, and many others ending in “-pril”) and “AR” blockers (Atacand, Cozaar, and many others ending in “-sartan”) all of which block this same enzyme pathway—along with causing multiple adverse effects.
Correcting sodium/potassium imbalance is easily achieved by stopping all use of sodium chloride (table salt) and using—as much as your taste buds will allow— either potassium chloride[v] (sold in most major grocery stores, all health food stores, and the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary), or potassium/magnesium salt[vi] (also named “Wright Salt” because of los federales regulations against telling the truth on supplement labels.)
Although most of us who have diabetes type 2 know about it, there are many more who aren’t aware they have prediabetes. Check with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine, and consider having the “Kraft Prediabetes Test” done.[vii] This test can be done with both “fingerstick” blood-spot tests or actually drawing blood specimens. Basic books about diet and exercise for reversing prediabetes and diabetes type 2 include The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, PhD, and PACE: The 12-minute Fitness Revolution by Al Sears, MD.
Toxic metal testing is almost always done by doctors skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine. Upper cervical misalignment is commonly found in individuals who’ve had whiplash injury or other “whacks to the head” at any time in their lives. For diagnosis of whether this is a problem for you, and treatment if it is, go to www.nucca.org. And yes, properly done upper cervical realignment can lower blood pressure.[viii]
Strengthening Blood Vessels
Strengthening blood vessels will reduce their risk of breaking and causing hemorrhagic stroke. Reducing the tendency of blood to clot abnormally, and increasing blood’s “clot-busting” potential, will reduce the risk of ischemic strokes caused by blood clots. Reducing the tendency of blood vessels to spasm will likely reduce your risk of stroke, too.
There are many, many nutrients and herbs that help to strengthen blood vessels. Let’s review a few basic and particularly important ones here, starting with . . .
Vitamin C. For thousands of years before ascorbic acid was discovered to be a vitamin for humans and a few other animals, from time to time people (mostly sailors, travelers, and explorers) would sicken and often die of scurvy. Bleeding from broken blood vessels was a major feature of scurvy; without enough vitamin C, blood vessels burst. Although only a few milligrams of vitamin C daily are needed to prevent scurvy, a greater quantity (the minimum amount not presently known) is needed to maximize blood vessel strength. Since definitive research on this point hasn’t been done, and since vitamin C is so important for so many reasons, consider two recommendations. For optimizing health and maximizing “anti-aging,” take “bowel tolerance” levels of vitamin C. (“Bowel tolerance” is as much vitamin C as your intestines will tolerate without provoking excess gas and “looseness.” The vitamin C should be taken two to four times daily.) For staying healthy and reducing stroke risk, but “not taking too many pills,” take at least 1 gram of vitamin C, twice daily.
In Nature, vitamin C and flavonoids are always found together, and vitamin C and flavonoids always work better together. In the 1930s, flavonoids (then known as a group as “vitamin P”) were observed to correct the fragility of the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) in cases of scurvy. By now, flavonoids have been found to strengthen all sizes of blood vessels, as well as ligaments, tendons, connective tissue, and many other body tissues.
Flavonoids (along with carotenoids) give fruits and vegetables most of their colors, although some flavonoids are white. The best way to ensure flavonoid intake and reduce stroke risk[ix] is to eat as many differently colored fruits and vegetables as possible. For strengthening blood vessels and stroke prevention, consider either or both of two sources: hawthorne and ginkgo.
Hawthorne has been is the #1 traditional European botanical for blood vessel strengthening for centuries. Modern scientific research confirms hawthorn’s effect on the heart and blood vessels.[x] Although there are many hawthorn supplements available, I usually recommend Hawthorn Solid Extract by Wise Woman Herbals, one teaspoonful daily.
Ginkgo is known for preservation and improvement of memory, but it’s been clearly demonstrated to strengthen blood vessels and improve blood flow all over the body. Most quality ginkgo preparations are standardized to contain 24% flavonoid glycosides. To help prevent stroke, consider eighty milligrams of a standardized ginkgo preparation, twice daily.
Ginkgo helps prevent strokes in other ways, too, by helping to prevent clots and blood vessel spasm. It’s even helpful after a stroke has occurred by reducing brain swelling and promoting better ATP (energy) production and blood sugar use following ischemia (lack of blood flow).[xi]
Flavonoids strengthen the blood vessels themselves, while Centella asiatica (also known as gotu kola) strengthens the connective tissue sheath that surrounds blood vessels, thus providing an additional layer of protection against blood vessel rupture.[xii] Centella also reduces hardening of the blood vessels, and improves blood flow. Centella is standardized to its triterpenoid content, which appear to be the major active ingredients. To help prevent stroke, consider sixty to one hundred twenty milligrams of a standardized preparation daily.
Larger blood vessels need to maintain their elasticity and avoid becoming hardened or stiffened. Copper is absolutely essential to the formation and repair of elastic tissue throughout the body, including blood vessels. Since many of us inadvertently get considerable amounts of copper from water flowing through copper pipes, check this with a doctor skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine to make sure you really need it. If you do, take at least two milligrams daily, an amount often found in multiple vitamin-mineral supplements.
Preventing and Reversing Blood Clots
Fish oil makes platelets (the tiny blood elements that clump together into clots) more slippery, so they can’t stick together as easily. Fish oil literally does a “lube job” on platelets! However, researchers have found that the platelet lubricating effects of DHA and EPA (two major essential fatty acids found in fish and fish oil) are “gender specific.”[xiii] DHA makes women’s platelets more slippery, but has very little effect on men’s platelets. And apparently EPA “likes” men’s platelets better! Since both are present in fish oil supplements, a good strategy is for women to find one with more DHA than EPA, and of course the opposite for men.
Eating fish two or three times weekly is the best way to get a start on fish oil consumption. However, if you’re really concerned about stroke prevention, take one to one and a half tablespoonsful of cod liver or other fish oil (containing more DHA for women, more EPA for men) daily. Cod liver oil also helps prevent osteoporosis, reduces risk of heart attack and heart rhythm disorders, and many other things, too.
Additional vitamin E should always accompany essential fatty acid supplementation, at least 600 IU for the amount of cod liver oil noted above. But vitamin C also inhibits platelet stickiness (“aggregation”) on its own, and in this way helps prevent stroke on its own.
Fibrinogen is a precursor of fibrin, a key element in clot formation. Elevated levels of fibrinogen are an independent risk factor for easy blood clotting. Turmeric helps reduce abnormally high levels of fibrinogen.[xiv] Using turmeric in cooking is the easiest way to use a turmeric supplement, as only 20 milligrams daily (1/14,000 ounce) have been found necessary to do the job. Most turmeric supplement capsules contain much more; fortunately there are no known turmeric overdoses.
Many of us have heard or read about nattokinase, a safe, natural substance proven to prevent and eliminate clots, literally “eating them up.” Professor Hiroyuki Sumi of Miyozaki Medical College, Japan, researched a potent fibrinolytic enzyme naturally present in the soy cheese natto, a food consumed in Japan for at least two thousand years.[xv] Volunteers ate either natto (200 grams, approximately seven ounces) or took 1300 milligrams of nattokinase, the active enzyme in natto. In both circumstances, blood tests demonstrated significantly improved serum fibrinolytic (“clot-busting”) activity lasting for approximately eight to twelve hours.[xvi] In a single case, Professor Sumi was able to demonstrate complete clearing of a clot that had blocked off nearly all blood flow to an eye, causing blindness. With use of nattokinase, the clot was cleared, and vision was restored.
Natto cheese is available in many grocery stores and online. If we want, we can add this soy cheese to our list of stroke-preventing foods. While many don’t like the taste, some do, and if that includes you, try to eat natto cheese with other stroke-risk-lowering foods noted above.
Nattokinase (the active ingredient in natto cheese that “eats” clots) is also available as a supplement in natural food stores, compounding pharmacies, and the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary. A safe, effective, orally administered fibrinolytic enzyme (an enzyme that breaks down the fibrin component of clots), nattokinase is available in every natural food store, compounding pharmacy, and at Tahoma Clinic Dispensary. (Of course los federales prohibit printing the truth about what nattokinase can do on the labels of the bottles.)
How much and how often to use nattokinase depends on our individual health circumstances. Much more is needed much more often to help eliminate existing blood clots, and of course less is needed to prevent them. Fortunately it’s almost impossible to overdose and hurt oneself. But please check with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine about what amount might be good for you!
Not Just a Plumbing Problem!
So far, I’ve been using commonsense “plumbing principles”: stronger “pipes” with smooth-flowing blood will cut the risk of stroke. But blood vessels aren’t just pipes, they’re alive, and can do at least two things a regular pipe can’t. Blood vessels can spasm, and they can become inflamed.
Magnesium is by far the most important essential nutrient needed to prevent spasm in your blood vessels! And even though deep green vegetables are excellent sources of magnesium, most of us should be taking 250-400 milligrams daily, not only to help prevent blood vessel spasm and potential stroke, but also to reduce the risk of nearly every cardiovascular problem known. For a few of us, this amount (or more) magnesium can cause “magnesium-induced magnesium deficiency” (not kidding!), so check with that physician skilled and knowledgeable in natural medicine before using more on a regular basis.
Cardiovascular research has increasingly focused on blood vessel inflammation as a “triggering event” for blood vessel damage. It appears that much plaque in blood vessels (previously thought to be caused solely by excess cholesterol and other blood lipids) is actually formed as the body’s response to inflammation. Tests for cardiovascular inflammation such as the C-reactive protein test are (or should be) part of routine risk screening panels.
If you’re eating fish and taking cod liver oil or other omega-3 fatty acid containing oils (along with vitamin E), you’ve got this one covered already. To be certain, ask for a C-reactive protein test next time you see your doctor.
Eat Your Veggies . . . and Other Things Mother Taught Us!
You’ve read this from me many times before, but here it is again: diets that are high in vegetables and fruits and lower in animal protein are associated with less disease of all kinds, including stroke.[xvii] In a twelve-year study of 859 men and women, only one additional serving of vegetables or fruits daily was associated with a 40% reduction in stroke risk![xviii] For the approximately two-thirds of us who don’t have type 2 diabetes ourselves or in our families, whole grains can lower the risk of ischemic stroke; refined flour products, however, give no protection.[xix] (But if you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or metabolic syndrome, following the Paleo Diet and avoiding all grains is best for you.)
Other well-researched non-dietary factors that increase stroke risk include tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity. Didn’t mother tell us “don’t smoke cigarettes, don’t drink too much alcohol, and go out and exercise”? Even if she didn’t, these are just commonsense principles if we want to lower our risk of stroke.
If you can’t get your husband (or in fewer cases, your wife) to read this whole article, and you’re worried that he (or she) may be at risk for stroke, have him (or her) read this:
To very significantly reduce your risk of any type of stroke, eat more vegetables and fruits. If you don’t have type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, eat grains—but only whole grains, none processed! Reduce animal protein, make sure beef is grass-fed, and eat more fish. If you like the taste, eat natto two to three times weekly. Quit smoking tobacco, cut alcohol consumption to no more than one drink daily, and exercise!
Supplements to lower stroke risk include:
- Vitamin C, 1000 milligrams twice daily (more for optimal health);
- Cod liver oil (remember, more DHA than EPA content for women, and more EPA than DHA for men), 1½ tablespoonsful daily, always with vitamin E (as “mixed tocopherols”), 400 IU daily;
- Ginkgo (standardized extract), 80 milligrams twice daily;
- Hawthorne solid extract, one teaspoonful daily;
- Centella asiatica / gotu kola (standardized extract), 60 to 120 millligrams daily;
- Turmeric, 20 (or more) milligrams daily (or put turmeric into your cooking regularly); and
- Magnesium, 250-400 milligrams daily.
And, if you personally have “stroke risk factors”—including a family history of stroke, high blood pressure, or high blood viscosity, and/or if you won’t exercise, quit smoking, and cut down the alcohol—add:
- Nattokinase, 100 milligrams twice daily.
Do all this, and your chances of suffering a stroke will be dramatically less!
[ii] For further details about blood viscosity as a major cause of heart attack and stroke, see these books: The Origin of Atherosclerosis by Kenneth Kensey M.D. and Young Cho, Ph.D. or The Blood Thinner Cure by Kenneth Kensey M.D. and Carol Turkington
[iii] www.meridianvalleylab.com , “blood viscosity”. Meridian’s test uses a technology that tests blood viscosity more comprehensively than any other viscosity test presently in use. I am Medical Director at Meridian Valley Lab.
[iv] Li YC, Qiao G et al. Vitamin D: a negative endocrine regulator of the renin-angiotensin system and blood pressure. Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2004;89-90;387-392
[v] For an explanation of how potassium chloride lowers blood pressure, see the book The High Blood Pressure Solution by Richard Moore, M.D., Ph.D.
[vi] For many more details about potassium/magnesium salt and stroke and heart attack prevention, please see Green Medicine Newsletter, June 2016
[vii] See www.meridianvalleylab.com under “glucose control” for details about the Kraft pre-diabetes test. See also the book Diabetes Epidemic and You by Dr. Joseph Kraft
[viii] Bakris G, Dickholtz M et al. Atlas vertebra realignment and achievement of arterial pressure goal in hypertensive patients: a pilot study. J Hum Hypertens. 2007 May;21(5):347-52.
[ix] Keli S et al. Dietary flavonoids, antioxidant vitamins, and incidence of stroke: the Zutphen Study. Arch Int Med 1996;156(6) 637-642
[x] Bone K, Mills S. Hawthorn. In Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, London, 2000. pp. 439-447
[xi] ibid, pp. 404-417
[xii] Murray M. Gotu Kola. in The Healing Power of Herbs, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, California, 1995. pp. 173-183
[xiii] Phang M et al. Gender-specific inhibition of platelet aggregation following omega-3 fatty acid supplemementation. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2012;22:109-114
[ix] Ramirez-Bosca A, Soler A, et al. An hydroalcoholic extract of Curcuma longa lowers the abnormally high values of human plasma fibrinogen. Mech Aging Dev 2000; 114; 207-220
[xv] Sumi H et al. A novel fibrinolytic enzyme (nattokinase) in the vegetable cheese natto, a typicl and popular food in the Japanese diet. Experientia 1987;43:1110-1111
[xvi] Sumi H et al. Enhancement of the fibrinolytic activity in plasma by oral administration of nattokinase. Acta Haematol 1990;84:139-145
[xvii] Joshipura KJ et al. Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of ischemic stroke. JAMA 1999;282(13):1233-1239
[xviii] Khaw KT, Barrett-Connor E. Dietary potassium and stroke-related mortality: a 12-year prospective population study. NEJM 1987;316(5):235-40
[xix] Liu S et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of ischemic stroke in women: a prospective study. JAMA 2000;284;(12):1534-1540