Many health discussions focus on heart disease. And while this is an important discussion because it can help many prevent heart attacks, just as importantly, the blood vessels that feed the brain (known as cerebral vasculature) are equally as vulnerable and in need of protection. And it is the health of these cerebral vessels that's important in preventing a stroke.
Ever wondered how blood gets to your brain?
Briefly and simply, the brain receives its blood supply from the two internal carotid arteries that course up the sides of the neck and the two vertebral arteries that travel up the back of the neck. All of these arteries combine and form what is called the circle of Willis, a ring of vessels from which all major cerebral vessels arise. Before combining, the vertebral and basilar arteries also send off branches to feed the other parts of the brain like the brainstem and the cerebellum.
A stroke is a blockage of a cerebral vessel and can be devastating, resulting in impaired quality of life or even in end of life. The area of the brain affected by the stroke is based on the specific vessel that has been unable to deliver proper blood supply to its corresponding brain tissue. And each region of brain tissue has an associated function, whether its motor, sensory, visual, perception, speech, or cognition. There can be some stroke warning signs—but oftentimes there are none.
To prevent a stroke you have to tackle inflammation.
Known risk factors for cerebral vessel disease include elevated blood pressure, elevated lipids, diabetes, smoking, alcohol, obesity, genetics, underlying disease such as autoimmunity or blood disorders, medications and drugs, stress, poor nutrition, poor sleep as well as sleep apnea, age, or a previous stroke or heart attack. The common pathway for many of these risk factors? Inflammation. Many of these risk factors result in inflammation of the vessels, known as vasculitis.
So what can we do? Some of the very same things we do to hopefully prevent a heart attack can also help to prevent a stroke. And remember: Your lifestyle choices always matter.
1. Adopt a plant-based diet.
The vast array of vitamins, nutrients, and essential compounds that are found in plant-based foods help to lower blood pressure, improve glucose control, reduce inflammation, and help in weight loss. Try to minimize or eliminate pro-inflammatory animal products.
2. Normalize your sleep.
If you have sleep apnea, get it treated because sleep apnea results in less oxygen delivered to the brain during sleep—a critical time for many of the brain's functions. For example, sleep helps to form and retain lessons and memories from the day before. Sleep hygiene is important, so try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each night.
3. Don't skimp on fresh air and exercise.
Regular daily exercise—preferably outside for the added beneficial effects of the great outdoors—is important to reduce blood sugar, lower weight, and reduce stress.
4. Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
If you need help quitting, please reach out for help or speak to your physician.
5. Supplement to fight inflammation.
Herbal formulations are great for preventive purposes. Boswellia lowers brain inflammation and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant that will work to scoop up those inflammation-causing free radicals. Meadowsweet and white willow bark are natural sources of salicylate acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Important: If your risk factors are great enough that you need aspirin, these herbs are not a substitute.
6. Give acupuncture a try.
Studies have demonstrated the positive effects on cerebral blood flow with particular head acupoints.
7. Start the day with a juice.
Start each morning with a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant combination that includes turmeric and ginger, along with fruits and vegetables. It is the perfect time to infuse your hungry cells with crucial vitamins and nutrients to set them up for physiologic success!
You have the power to heal your body, improve your health, and prevent disease. So harness that power and take one day at a time.