By Dr. Mercola
Your risk of stroke rises with age, with most cases occurring at age 55 or older. However, younger people are increasingly at risk, according to new research showing the rate of strokes among those younger than 55 nearly doubled between 1993 and 2005.1
Researchers Blame Unhealthy Lifestyles for Rising Stroke Rates in the Young
In 1993, 20- to 54-year-olds accounted for 13 percent of strokes. In 2005, the rate had risen to 19 percent. While the increase may be partly due to increased diagnosis – MRIs that can detect minor stroke damage were much more widely used by 2005 than they were in 1993 – the researchers said they did not believe that was the major reason.
Instead, they blamed a higher incidence of risk factors for stroke among the young, including conditions such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, which are impacted by lifestyle choices.
"…if you're developing [these diseases] at the age of 20," the study's lead researcher said, "then you may have a stroke at a younger age, too."2
Many of the Same Risk Factors for Heart Disease Apply for Strokes
Just as stroke rates are increasing among the young, so too are rates of heart disease. Cardiovascular mortality rates have, for the first time, risen among younger adults ages 35 to 44, while researchers believe today's children and adolescents may die of heart disease at a younger age than today's adults do.3
The culprits, again, are obesity, high blood sugar levels (a cause of endothelial dysfunction, the primary contributor to heart disease), and other conditions that negatively impact heart health – these are also overwhelmingly the result of poor diet, lack of exercise and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking.
You see, it's to be expected that if heart disease is occurring at younger ages, so too would strokes, as many of the same processes that increase your risk of heart disease also increase your risk of stroke, namely, damage to the cardiovascular system. These factors are linked to:
- High blood pressure, high triglycerides and elevated homocysteine levels
- Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Smoking and excess alcohol
But what do the first four risk factors have in common? They are virtually all caused by disruptions in insulin and leptin signaling. Ultimately this is what drives arterial plaque, disturbed signaling between insulin leptin and their receptors. One of the best ways you can improve this critical mechanism is to minimize your carbs to mostly high-fiber vegetables, eat about 1 gram of protein per 1 kilogram of LEAN body mass per day (much lower than most people eat) and have high-quality fats (no omega-6 oils) and do Peak Fitness exercises.
Additionally, for ischemic stroke secondary to atherosclerosis it would be very wise to optimize your vitamin K2 levels. This vitamin is crucial to stimulate matrix GLA protein, which will prevent calcification of your arteries and help place the calcium in the bones where it belongs. Vitamin D will also help work synergistically with the vitamin K2.
Up to 80 Percent of Strokes are Preventable
I like to refer to the most common type of stroke (ischemic stroke) as a "brain attack," which is actually very similar to a heart attack; the only difference is that the blood clot blocks blood and oxygen flow to your brain instead of to your heart. As a result, brain cells begin to die. Naturally, the longer your brain goes without oxygen, the greater your risk of lasting brain damage.
Some risk factors for stroke are out of your control (age, family history, gender), but many – the majority, actually – are not. The National Stroke Association states that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable4 because they're the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, or the conditions that are caused by them.
You can drastically reduce your stroke risk, no matter what your age, by:
- Eating right: I recommend you review my free nutrition plan for comprehensive guidelines on what to eat to stay healthy. Along with avoiding excess sugars and fructose, you'll want to avoid synthetic trans fats, processed meats and diet sodas, all of which can increase your stroke risk. It will be crucial to optimize leptin and insulin signaling by minimizing your intake of carbs to mostly fiber vegetables, limiting your protein to the levels mentioned above.
- Optimizing your vitamin D and vitamin K2 levels: One study found people who got less than the midpoint level of sun exposure were at a 60 percent increased risk for stroke.5 The connection is most likely due to the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D, which is produced when your body is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has been associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart attack risk in previous research. Vitamin K2 works synergistically with vitamin D and activates matrix GLA protein, which inhibits arterial calcification.
- Exercising: I recommend a comprehensive program that includes some Peak Fitness exercises along with Super Slow strength training, Active Isolated Stretching and core work. If you've had a stroke, exercise is also very important, as research shows it can significantly improve both your mental and physical recovery.6 This will also go a long way toward improving your insulin and leptin receptor signaling.
- Reducing emotional stress: According to a 2008 study published in the journal Neurology,7 the more stressed you are, the greater your stroke risk. The researchers actually found that for every notch lower a person scored on their well-being scale, their risk of stroke increased by 11 percent. Check out the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for a simple way to help rid your body and mind of negative emotions.
- Not smoking or drinking alcohol excessively: Both of these can increase your stroke risk significantly.
- Avoiding hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and birth control pills: If you're on one of the hormonal birth control methods (whether it's the pill, patch, vaginal ring or implant), it is important to understand that you are taking synthetic progesterone and synthetic estrogen. These contraceptives contain the same synthetic hormones as those used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has well-documented risks, including an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer.
Do You Know the Most Common Stroke Warning Signs?
Getting medical help quickly can mean the different between life and death, or permanent disability, if you're suffering from a stroke. This is an area where conventional medicine excels, as there are emergency medications that can dissolve a blood clot that is blocking blood flow to your brain, and if done quickly enough can virtually reverse any permanent neurological damage.
In order to be effective, you typically need to get treated within one hour. So it's very important that you're able to recognize the signs of stroke and get medical help immediately. The National Stroke Association recommends using the FAST acronym to help remember the warning signs of stroke:8
F = FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = TIME: If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.
Other signs of stroke indicating you should get help right away include:
- Sudden trouble walking (dizziness, loss of balance, etc.)
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of your body only)
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden severe headache