• For the Prevention of Strokes:
• For the Treatment of Strokes:
Strokes occur when part of the brain suddenly loses its blood supply and dies. The underlying cause is generally atherosclerosis, a condition in which the walls of blood vessels become thickened and irregular. As atherosclerosis progresses, blood flow through important arteries becomes restricted to a much smaller passage than nature designed. This narrow passage can then suddenly become blocked, often by a blood clot. When this happens, brain cells downstream of the blockage are suddenly deprived of oxygen (cerebral ischemia). Brain cells require a constant supply of oxygen to survive. Within seconds, they begin to malfunction, and within minutes they die.
In so-called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), the blockage to blood flow is temporary, and symptoms rapidly disappear. However, in a true stroke, officially called a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), the blockage lasts long enough to cause cell death in a significant section of the brain. Less commonly, strokes are caused by bleeding into the brain, known as a hemorrhagic stroke.
The symptoms of a stroke depend on the area of the brain affected. Paralysis of one limb or one side of the face is common. Loss of speech or sensation may also occur.
Much of the loss that occurs in a stroke is permanent, but some recovery usually does occur in time. There are two main causes of this recovery. The first involves the body’s ability to grow new blood vessels. Nerve cells on the margins of the dead area may cling to survival, functioning imperfectly on whatever oxygen drifts over to them. Eventually, new blood vessel growth enables the nerve cells to recover perfectly.
The second cause of recovery involves the brain’s remarkable ability to adapt to difficult circumstances: to a lesser or greater extent, surviving parts of the brain can take over tasks once performed by brain cells that have died.
Conventional treatment for a stroke has several phases, but the most important is prevention. Stopping smoking, losing weight, reducing cholesterol levels, and controlling blood pressure fight atherosclerosis and thereby reduce the risk of stroke. Also, physicians may recommend use of blood-thinning drugs, such as aspirin, to prevent the blood clots that so frequently are the final step to a stroke. Furthermore, if there is evidence that the main blood vessels leading to the brain are seriously narrowed, surgery or angioplasty may be considered to widen those vessels.
Treatment of a stroke that has just occurred involves maintaining life during the immediate recovery period and limiting the spread of brain damage (if possible). Finally, physical and occupational therapists help the stroke survivor to adapt.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
There are a number of alternative options that may be useful for preventing or even possibly treating strokes. The best documented are those that fight atherosclerosis.
Meaningful evidence tells us that numerous herbs and supplements are helpful for improving the
, which in turn should decrease
See also the article on
Various herbs and supplements with blood-thinning properties have been suggested to be used instead of or along with aspirin as a means of preventing blood clots. The best evidence regards the supplement
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
As we described above, cells at the margin of a stroke may cling to life until new blood vessels form to supply them with full circulation. Certain herbs and supplements might facilitate this by increasing blood flow, or alternatively, by reducing brain-cell oxygen requirements.
Although the evidence remains preliminary, two supplements have shown some promise for this purpose: vinpocetine and glycine.
In a single-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 30 participants who had just experienced a stroke received either placebo or
A few other studies, some of poor design, also provide suggestive evidence that vinpocetine may be helpful for strokes.
: There are concerns that vinpocetine could interact harmfully with standard drugs used to thin the blood.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
However, paradoxically, there are potential concerns that high-dose glycine could actually
harm caused by strokes, and drugs that block glycine have been investigated as treatments to limit stroke damage.
For more information, including additional dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Evidence suggests that high consumption of fish or fish oil
Many other herbs and supplements may also reduce the blood’s tendency to clot, and thereby help prevent strokes, including
Similarly, the herb white willow has been advocated as a substitute for aspirin because it contains salicin, a substance very much like aspirin. However, willow, take in usual doses, doesn't appear to impair blood coagulation to the same extent as aspirin,
Besides vitamin E, other antioxidants such as
In one study,
In an interesting study investigating the effects of music therapy, stroke patients who listened to music of their own choosing in the early stages of their recovery demonstrated more improvement in memory and attention than those patients who listened to language (books on tape). Music listeners were also less depressed and confused than subjects who neither listened to music nor language.
For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to recovery from strokes, see the
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
If you are at risk for a stroke, it might be advisable to avoid excessive intake of iron
In addition, people susceptible to stroke should exercise great caution regarding the herb
Finally, numerous herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to prevent or treat strokes. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug articles in the
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Medical Review Board
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