Are You at Risk for Stroke?
By Jennifer Palmer, ND, Director of Education for NEEDS
One of the most dreaded health issues concerning Americans is suffering physical debilitation or death from stroke, partially because it can happen suddenly and without warning. Mainstream medicine may say that high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension are the primary risk factors for stroke, but in truth, there is a deeper cause behind each of these conditions that must be addressed in order to assess your risk.
There are two primary types of stroke: 1) hemorrhagic stroke, accounting for less than 20% of strokes, where the blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding in the brain, and 2) ischemic stroke, which entails blockage of a crucial vessel that delivers blood and oxygen to the brain. The focus of this article is on the more prevalent ischemic type, and the steps you can take to lower the risk and put your mind at ease.
In reviewing the research, it appears that systemic inflammation is one of the primary causes for ischemic stroke. Inflammation causes white blood cells to aggregate and secrete chemicals that initiate platelet aggregation and clot formation. One of the causes of inflammation can be infection, because it triggers an immune response, which in turn brings white blood cells to the area to fight the pathogen. Some studies show that infections, such as dental, bacterial, and respiratory, can be an underlying cause of stroke. Inflammation can also be caused by diet, environmental toxins, hormonal changes, stress, and other common factors.
More than just a cholesterol issue
Research shows that people with a high C-Reactive Protein (CRP) level, a marker that measures systemic inflammation, have double the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke as compared to people with only high cholesterol. People with the lowest CRP levels had the lowest risk of heart attack and those with high CRP plus high cholesterol had the greatest risk of heart attack. Another study showed that CRP was a better predictor for heart problems than cholesterol levels and that women with the highest levels of CRP had four times the risk of suffering from a heart attack or blood vessel problem than women with the lowest measurements.
The standard list of risk factors for stroke and cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, overweight, high cholesterol, and smoking, all have the same common thread, that being inflammation. The obvious remedy is to tone down inflammation as a means to relieve a multitude of health problems. Despite the typical doctor's recommendation, the health benefits will be greatest if you do more than a simple "aspirin a day" regime. If you desire to lower inflammation naturally, and want to see measurable results, then here are a few scientifically proven suggestions to lower CRP.
Going natural to subdue inflammation
Curcumin, extracted from the glowing orange Indian spice Curcuma longa, has been shown to decrease inflammation and CRP specifically. In one study, mice were fed a high cholesterol diet and given either curcumin or a cholesterol-lowering statin medication. Both treatments helped prevent development of atherosclerosis, and curcumin significantly reduced CRP levels, along with lowering total cholesterol and LDL, while raising HDL levels.
Antioxidants, by blocking free radical damage, can halt the inflammatory process and have been shown to lower CRP. In one moderate sized clinical trial, CRP values were assessed in "healthy" smokers. The group that took 1000 mg of vitamin C daily for two months had a significant reduction in CRP levels (approximately 25%) as compared to the placebo group, specifically for those who started the study with elevated CRP. As an interesting side note, it was found that among those in the trial who were considered obese, 75% had elevated CRP levels at baseline, proving an important direct correlation between obesity and inflammation.
An effective, yet often overlooked anti-inflammatory choice is fiber. A very large study looked at fiber intake in people with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. These groups are considered to be at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease, with a proclivity for elevated CRP levels. It was found that in these groups, those who consumed the most dietary fiber (20 grams daily or more, equivalent to a cup of black beans and an apple) had significantly lower CRP than people who consumed the least fiber, regardless of whether they qualified for one or all of these high risk categories. Interestingly, their dietary intake of different types of fat, protein, and carbs did not show a consistent correlation with CRP levels; it was only the fiber that strongly correlated. The relationship between fiber and inflammation is not completely understood, but there may be some association between fiber and intestinal flora that results in altering inflammatory chemical production.
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