The technical term is "cerebral vascular accident", but it is commonly known and feared as stroke or CVA. A stroke is usually sudden and involves a disruption in the blood flow to the brain. Eighty percent of all strokes are related to a stenosis, or a severe narrowing of the blood vessels resulting in an ischemic episode or lack of blood flow to the brain. The other twenty percent are the result of a hemorrhage or uncontrolled bleeding in the brain such as when a blood vessel breaks inside of the skull (Source: Ammer, 2005).
A stroke can be devastating and has the potential to be fatal as well. It can cause problems that range from one sided paralysis, loss of bladder control, speech and language problems, problems with the emotions and other mental/social problems, memory impairment and visual problems. Some recovery from a stroke can be accomplished through medication and physical, occupational and speech therapy but there is always the chance for secondary strokes to occur.
Strokes are the cause of about 1/3 of all paralysis in women who are between the ages of 17 and 44 years, and are the most common neurologic disorder among both genders and all age groups. Strokes are the third leading cause of death among women and its risk rises with age. In fact, did you know that strokes affect women more often than men, with about 60% of all stroke related deaths being women (Source: Ammer, 2005).
Risk Factors for Stroke
One of the biggest risk factors for stroke is hypertension. Others include atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arterial walls), diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and stress. Women have a slightly increased risk in younger ages during hormonal changes such as with childbirth and their risk increases at menopause.
In addition to these risk factors, you are at high risk for stroke if you have had had a stroke in the past (Risk is increased by about 13%), have a strong family history of stroke, or have a history of TIA. A TIA is a transient ischemic attack which lasts briefly and is often referred to as a mini stroke. The attack itself can be very brief, lasting only a few minutes at a time and the symptoms are typically resolved completely in a day. These symptoms can include: blurred vision, weakness or numbness in one arm, leg or one side of the face, a ringing in the ears, the feeling of dizziness or fainting, difficulty in swallowing, speaking or understanding language, a sudden headache, a sudden and dramatic personality change, impaired judgment or forgetfulness. TIA is important to recognize and monitor because nearly all stroke victims are thought to have at least one or two of these before the actual stroke occurred.
Dietary Changes to Minimize the Risk of Stroke
One of the first steps to preventing strokes, especially in people who seem at highest risk is to change their diet. This should eliminate a number of the risk factors. The diet should be one that is meant to lower the blood cholesterol, lower the blood pressure and help to lose weight. The DASH diet, (the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet is a good choice because it can satisfy all of these requirements. The DASH diet is one that is recommended by the American Heart Association and consists of fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy foods but is low in total and saturated fats. The diet is effective and may even eliminate the need for medications in some people (With doctor's advice and consent, of course) (Source: Bednash, 2001).
The doctor will have recommendations for the best diet plan for you, however you may consider asking about adding whey or soy protein to the diet plan. Protein is important because it is vital to every cell and function in the body. Protein also increases the feeling of satiety from the foods that we eat, so that we can feel satisfied with less. Whey protein increases the amino acid, leucine which is vital to lean muscle tissue and reduce body fat. Because it also stabilizes the blood sugar it allows for slower absorption and digestion which in turn lessens the amount of insulin that is released into the blood stream. Increased insulin correlates with increase fat storage. Whey protein also stimulates the release to two hunger suppressing hormones (Source: The Whey Protein Institute).
Other Benefits of Whey Protein:
- Helps to maintain the blood pressure within normal limits
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Improves blood vessel function
Soy protein is also beneficial and may lower blood cholesterol (another of the serious stroke risks) by about nine points. It may also work to lower the blood pressure (Source: Natural News, 2006).
Protein should make up about 20-35% of the overall daily calories, but no more than that, according to the American Heart Association. The protein that is selected should be low fat and preferably plant based although there are some good animal based proteins that are low in fat and calories as well. Red meat should be avoided as much as possible because although it is rich in protein, it is also high in calories and saturated fats.
Using a protein supplement between meals as a snack can help keep the healthy diet moving in the right direction, but the choice should be made carefully. You want to find one that has the right amount of protein but does not have excessive calories. After all, a between meal snack should not have as many calories as the meals it is coming between.
Immediate Attention for Strokes
If you or a loved one is showing any of the warning signs of stroke: sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis of the body, especially if it is affecting only one side, sudden vision changes, sudden loss of speech or difficulty in understanding spoken language, sudden and severe headache, unexplained dizziness, fainting or falling, it is imperative that immediate medical attention be sought.
The sooner that the stroke is diagnosed and treated, the more positive the prognosis is likely to be. There are medications that can be administered after a stroke to prevent permanent damage, however they have a very small window of opportunity to be given and must be timed exactly. If the drugs are not given in the right time frame, they can cause bleeding in the brain and make the patient's condition even worse and may even be fatal.
Christine Ammer. The New A to Z of Women's Health. Fifth Edition. Checkmark Books. New York, New York 2005
Geraldine Bednash, PhD., RN, FAAN,. Editor. Ask a Nurse: From Home Remedies to Hospital Care. Simon and Schuster Source. New York, New York 2001
Natural News. Research Links Soy Protein With Heart Health. November 18, 2009
The Whey Protein Institute
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