Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
You should seek conventional medical treatment for stroke. You should use complementary and alternative therapies only under the supervision of a health care provider. Supplements can have negative effects on certain segments of the population, and can interact negatively with prescription medications. Make sure all of your medical providers are aware of any supplements you are considering taking.
Potentially beneficial nutritional supplements include the following:
Alpha-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid works together with other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. It is important for growth, helps prevent cell damage, and helps the body rid itself of harmful substances. Because alpha-lipoic acid can pass easily into the brain, it has protective effects on brain and nerve tissue, and shows promise as a treatment for stroke and other brain disorders involving free radical damage. Animals treated with alpha-lipoic acid, for example, suffered less brain damage and had a four times greater survival rate after a stroke than the animals who did not receive this supplement, especially when alpha-lipoic acid is combined with vitamin E. While animal studies are encouraging, more research is needed to understand whether this benefit applies to people as well.
Calcium.. In a population-based study (one in which large groups of people are followed over time), women who took in more calcium, both through the diet and supplements, were less likely to have a stroke over a 14-year period. More research is needed to fully assess the strength of the connection between calcium and risk of stroke.
Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Betaine. Many clinical studies indicate that patients with elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer from a stroke than those with normal levels. Homocysteine levels are strongly influenced by dietary factors, particularly vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and betaine. These substances help break down homocysteine in the body. Some studies have even shown that healthy individuals who consume higher amounts of folic acid and vitamin B6 are less likely to develop atherosclerosis than those who consume lower amounts of these substances. One study found that lowering homocysteine with folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 reduced the overall risk of stroke, but not stroke severity or disability. Despite these findings, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that supplementation with betaine and B vitamins reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, or that taking these supplements prevents the development or recurrence of heart disease. The AHA does not currently recommend population-wide homocysteine screening, and suggests that folic acid, as well as vitamin B6, B12, and betaine requirements be met through diet alone. Individuals at high risk for developing atherosclerosis, however, should be screened for blood levels of homocysteine. If elevated levels are detected, a provider may recommend supplementation.
Magnesium. Population-based information suggests that people with low magnesium in their diet may be at greater risk for stroke. Some preliminary scientific evidence suggests that magnesium sulfate may be helpful in the treatment of a stroke or TIA. More research is needed to know for certain if use of this mineral following a stroke or TIA is helpful. Magnesium may lower blood pressure and potentially interact with some heart medicines.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Strong evidence from population-based studies suggests that omega-3 fatty acid intake (primarily from fish) helps protect against stroke caused by plaque buildup and blood clots in the arteries that lead to the brain. In fact, eating at least 2 servings of fish per week can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 50%. However, people who eat more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may be at an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal type of stroke in which an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures. Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the chances of bleeding, especially in those taking anticoagulant medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or even aspirin.
The FDA recommends that pregnant women and women of childbearing age, who may become pregnant, avoid large predatory fish such as shark, tuna, and swordfish. These fish have much higher levels of methyl mercury than other commonly consumed fish. Since the fetus may be more susceptible than the mother to the adverse effects of methyl mercury, FDA experts say that it is prudent to minimize the consumption of fish that have higher levels of methyl mercury.
Potassium. Although low levels of potassium in the blood may be associated with stroke, taking potassium supplements does not seem to reduce the risk of having a stroke.
Vitamin C. Having low levels of vitamin C contributes to the development of atherosclerosis and other damage to blood vessels and the consequences, such as stroke. Vitamin C supplements may also improve cognitive function if you have suffered from multiple strokes.
Vitamin E. Eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin E, along with other antioxidants like vitamin C, selenium, and carotenoids, reduces your risk for stroke. In addition, low levels of vitamin E in the blood may be associated with risk of dementia (memory impairment) following stroke. Animal studies also suggest that vitamin E supplements, possibly in combination with alpha-lipoic acid, may reduce the amount of brain damaged if taken prior to the actual stroke. Researchers suggest testing this theory in people who are at high risk for stroke. Thus far, however, some large, well-designed studies of people suggest that it is safest and best to obtain this antioxidant via food sources, and that supplements do not provide any added benefit.
Others. Additional supplements that require further research but may be useful as part of the treatment or prevention of stroke include:
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 works as an antioxidant and may reduce damage following a stroke. CoQ10 may increase the ability of the blood to clot and therefore interfere with some blood-thinning medicines, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and others.
- Selenium. Low levels can worsen atherosclerosis and its consequences. However, scientists do not know whether taking selenium supplements will help.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider knowledgeable in the field.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). A close relative of the cranberry, bilberry fruits contain flavonoid compounds called anthocyanidins. Flavonoids are plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties. This means that they scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals and may help prevent a number of long-term illnesses, such as heart disease. Bilberry may slow blood clotting and therefore may increase the risk of bleeding in people who take blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, and others.
Garlic (Allium sativum). Clinical studies suggest that fresh garlic and garlic supplements may prevent blood clots and destroy plaque. Blood clots and plaque block blood flow and contribute to the development of heart attack and stroke. Garlic may also be beneficial for reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Homocysteine, similar to cholesterol, may contribute to increasing amounts of blood clots and plaque in blood vessels. If you take aspirin or other blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin), ACE inhibitors (a class of blood pressure medications), sulfonylureas for diabetes, birth control medications, medications for HIV, or statins for high cholesterol, talk to your doctor before using garlic supplements.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Gingko may reduce the likelihood of dementia following multiple strokes (often called multi-infarct dementia) by preventing blood clot formation. Most providers choose to use medications for this effect rather than herbs. Ginkgo may also decrease the amount of brain damage following a stroke. While animal studies support these possible benefits of ginkgo, more research is needed. Also, ginkgo should not be used with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, and others, unless specifically instructed by your provider.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng). Asian ginseng may decrease endothelial cell dysfunction. Endothelial cells line the inside of blood vessels. When these cells are disturbed, it may lead to a heart attack or stroke. The potential for ginseng to quiet down the blood vessels may prove to be protective against these conditions. More research is needed. Ginseng can have stimulating effects that may be harmful to certain people. Ginseng may also thin your blood and, therefore, should be used only under the supervision of a doctor, particularly if you are taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, and others.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa). Early studies suggest that turmeric may prevent heart attack or stroke. Animal studies have shown that an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and inhibited the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol. This is helpful because oxidized LDL deposits in the walls of blood vessels and contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque and other damage to the vessels. Turmeric may also prevent platelet build up along the walls of an injured blood vessel. Platelets collecting at the site of a damaged blood vessel cause blood clots to form and contribute to blocking the artery as well. Turmeric may also thin your blood and, therefore, should only be used under the supervision of a provider, particularly if you are taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, and others. More research is needed to determine whether these effects apply to people.
Although an experienced homeopath might prescribe a regimen for treating stroke that includes one of the remedies listed below, the scientific evidence to date does not confirm the value of homeopathy for this purpose.
- Acontitum napellus. For numbness or paralysis after a cerebral accident.
- Belladonna. For stroke that leaves the person very sensitive to any motion, with vertigo and trembling.
- Kali bromatum. For stroke resulting in restlessness, wringing of the hands or other repeated gestures, insomnia, and night terrors.
- Nux vomica. For cerebral accident with paresis (muscular weakness caused by disease of the nervous system), expressive aphasia (language disorder), convulsions, and great irritability.
Many studies have been conducted on the effects of acupuncture during stroke rehabilitation. These studies show that acupuncture reduces hospital stays and improves recovery speed. Acupuncture has been shown to help stroke patients regain motor and cognitive skills and to improve their ability to manage daily functioning. Based on the available data, the National Institutes of Health recommend acupuncture as an alternative or supplemental therapy for stroke rehabilitation. In general, the evidence indicates that acupuncture is most effective when initiated as soon as possible after a stroke occurs, however positive outcomes have been found for acupuncture started as late as 6 months following a stroke.
People who have suffered a stroke often have a deficiency of qi in the liver meridian and a relative excess in the gallbladder meridian. In addition to a primary needling treatment on the liver meridian and the supporting kidney meridians, moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) may be used to enhance therapy. Treatment may also include performing acupuncture on affected limbs. Certain scalp acupuncture techniques that have been developed by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese practitioners also show promise.
Chiropractors do not treat stroke, and high velocity manipulation of the upper spine is considered inappropriate in individuals who are taking blood-thinning medications, or other medications used to reduce the risk of stroke. It should also be noted that chiropractic spinal manipulation of the neck is associated with an exceedingly small risk of causing stroke (reports range from 1 per 400,000 to 1 per 2,000,000).
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are reports of more than 100 substances that have been used to treat stroke. In fact, pharmacologic research of these substances focuses on understanding the ingredients and their mechanisms of action in order to develop new drugs.
Prognosis and Complications
There are many possible complications associated with stroke, including:
- Cognitive (thinking) deficits
- Speech problems
- Emotional difficulties
- Daily living problems
- Memory deficits
Many people begin to recover from a stroke almost immediately after it has occurred.
The recovery process is most rapid in the first 3 months after a stroke, but improvement will continue for 6 months to a year. Many stroke survivors even report that they slowly continue to regain function for years after their stroke. It is very important not to lose hope.
Connie’s comments: I would start with bananas, figs, oranges, avocado, walnut, fish, olive oil, colored foods and soups with bone marrow from beef, chicken or turkey. I prefer supplements of Lifepak and AGELOC at:
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