By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
By the time you finish reading this article, 45 people will have had a stroke in the United States. Each year, 780,000 people have new or recurrent stroke, according to the American Heart Association’s Statistics Committee. Stroke is the second leading cause of death in the world. It is the third leading cause of death in the US. For those who survive, stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Within 6 months of having a stroke, 33% of people die. Elsewhere around the world, those who have strokes do not have better outcomes. In Denmark, for example, 28% of people die within 4 weeks of a stroke, according to a study by the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen led by Dr. Per Thorvalsen. Within 1 year, 41% of stroke victims have died and within 5 years, 60% have died.
Clearly, you should do all you can to avoid having a stroke in the first place. We have scoured the scientific studies to uncover which strategies have proven effective in preventing stroke:
1. Reduce High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for stroke in both men and women. Your risk of stroke increases by 46% increase for every 7.5 mm Hg increase in your diastolic blood pressure, according to numerous studies, including a 1990 study from researchers at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK.
Reducing high blood pressure requires a lifestyle change. Eating a diet low in salt and that features potassium-rich vegetables and fruit , whole grains and which uses red meat sparingly. A single cup of cooked spinach has 839 mg of potassium, according to the USDA Dietary Guideline for Americans, 2005, Appendix B. That’s almost 18% of the daily recommendation of 4700 mg of potassium from the American Heart Association. Have a cup with your lunch and one with dinner and you’ve covered almost 40% of your daily needs.
On a personal note, I have added spinach for lunch and dinner for the past 9 months ---and cut out salt --- and have seen my blood pressure drop from 160/90 to 115/70. I also made other changes which I cover below.
2. Aspirin Lowers Risk of Stroke
The Women’s Health Study conducted in 2005 by Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School found that aspirin is an effective in preventing the first stroke prevention in women but not in men. Interestingly, taking aspirin every other day had no effect but taking 100 mg per day produced a 15% reduction in stroke incidence.
3. Never Fry Your Fish
The states that make up the Southern United States are sometimes called the “Stroke Belt” because of those living in these states have a 34% higher risk for stroke than the rest of the country. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Scientists have learned that the reason people in the Stroke Belt suffer more instances of stroke stems from the diet. Among the worst offenders? Fried fish. A 2011 study from Emory University led by Dr. Fadi Nahad examined the health records and diets of 21,675 participants over the age of 45. Only 5,022 of those studied ate 2 or more servings per week of non-fried fish. Of the remaining participants in the Stroke Belt, those who ate fish ate it fried.
4. Eat Baked Salmon Twice a Week
Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon twice per week is associated with a 20% lower risk of stroke. The active ingredients in fish oil are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
GISSI–Prevenzione was a massive study in Italy conducted from 1993 to 1995 in which 11,324 people who had had heart attacks were assigned to two groups. One group received no supplements. The other group received a fish oil supplement with 850 mg of EPA and DHA.
The participants who had received the fish oil had a 20% lower incidence of stroke in the 2 year period of the study. A 4 ounce serving of salmon has 1200 mg of DHA and EPA (950 mg of DHA and 250 mg of EPA), according to the. US Department of Agriculture. Other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include halibut, tuna, and sardines.
5. Stop Smoking
Smoking increases your risk of stroke, though not as much as high blood pressure.
The gold standard for studies on how smoking affects your risk of stroke was conducted in 1989 by the University Hospital in Boston (the “Framingham Study”). The study examined 4255 people between the ages of 36 and 68 for 26 years.
After 26 years of follow-up, 459 strokes occurred. Regardless of smoking status and in each sex, hypertensive subjects had twice the incidence of stroke. But those who smoked have a far higher incidence of stroke.The risk of stroke increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke.
Heavy smokers who smoke more than 40 cigarettes a day have a 100% higher risk than those who smoke 10 cigarettes or fewer a day.
Bottom line is: get your blood pressure under control to lower your risk for stroke. If you’re smoking quit. If you can’t quit, cut back, then cut back some more.
6. Walk. Walking 30 minutes a day lowers your risk of stroke.
7. Drink Water. Scientists have discovered that drinking water is associated with a markedly lower incidence of stroke, perhaps because water helps to thin your blood and thus decreases the risk that a clot will form