While there are many well-established risk factors for suffering a stroke (or any other type of cardiovascular disease event), we still don’t know what causes roughly 25 to 30 percent of ischemic strokes (the most common type of stroke).
Thankfully, research into the field has improved in recent years. And now, a new study just uncovered a surprising risk factor that increases your risk of suffering a stroke by up to 54 percent. (Fortunately, it’s something you can take steps to alleviate.)
I’ll tell you all about that revealing, new study in a moment.
But first, let’s back up to discuss some of the better-known risk factors for stroke and what you can do about them…
Six steps to reduce common risk factors for stroke
Stroke is the most common cause of serious, long-term, adult disability in the U.S. It occurs when a narrowed artery, a blood clot (embolus), or some bleeding in the brain interrupts or reduces blood flow and the delivery of vital oxygen and nutrients to sensitive brain tissue.
The good news is, you can reduce your risk of suffering a stroke by making a few simple lifestyle changes. And, as an added bonus, these steps also reduce your risk of suffering other types of cardiovascular disease as well…
1.) Manage high blood pressure. As with any type of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure (BP) is the No. 1 concern. So, make sure to check your blood pressure at home on a regular basis.
If you find you require medication to control your BP, I suggest you and your doctor pick one that has been around long enough that the risk profile is well-known. (Usually a generic version.) These time-tested drugs tend to be safer, and they cost less than newer versions entering the market. I also recommend staying away from angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (like lisinopril), which carry terrible, short- and long-term side effects.
In addition, as you get older, make sure your doctor adjusts medications, dosages, and targets for your BP. Many studies now show a link between better brain health and slightly higher systolic BP readings (in the range of 130 – 140 mmHg) among older people. It turns out, the brain (and other tissues) require a strong blood flow to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients.
Plus, other studies show that when BP goes too low (typically due to excess medication), it can increase your risk of fainting, falling, fractures, and even death. Especially as you get older.
2.) Avoid common OTC medications. Research shows several over-the-counter (OTC) cold or flu “decongestant” medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause a temporary narrowing of blood vessels, which can increase your BP and stroke risk. So, when you come down with a cold or the flu, or have sore joints, for example, make sure you always opt for natural solutions first.
3.) Adopt a healthy, balanced diet. Studies link a poor diet high in ultra-processed foods with a higher risk of suffering a stroke (or any type of cardiovascular disease event). So, as always, strive to maintain a healthy, balanced, Mediterranean-type diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, full-fat dairy (cheeses and yogurt), seeds and nuts, olives and olive oil, and alcohol in moderation. You should even occasionally indulge in some dark chocolate! And remember, despite the unfounded myths, eating steak and eggs actually helps lower your stroke risk.
4.) Make good sleep a priority. Lack of sleep is a serious risk factor for suffering a stroke. So, make sure you aim to get seven-to-nine hours of good, quality sleep each night. If you find you have trouble hitting that target, here’s a simple trick that can help. Also, if you suffer from sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder, seek treatment.
5.) Take care to lower stress. As I always report, stress is the No. 1 hidden cause of stroke (and other forms of cardiovascular disease). So, take steps to lower your stress by practicing some daily mindfulness meditation. (You can learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life in my book, New World Mindfulness.) Other mind-body techniques, such as acupuncture, massage, and yoga, can also help. In fact, studies show employing these techniques can help you reduce BP meaningfully without medication. (To learn about which technique will work best for you, check out my book Your Emotional Type.)
6.) Get moving. As with other types of cardiovascular disease, your stroke risk increases if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. So, make it a habit to get moving throughout the week. Studies show you need 140 to 150 minutes of moderate exercise total per week to achieve optimal protection against disease. In other words, don’t overdo it by engaging in what I call “excess-ercise.” (If you prefer more vigorous activity, limit it to a total of 75 minutes per week.) And remember, you don’t even have to exercise every day, as long as you achieve these weekly targets.
Now, let’s get back to the new study I mentioned above…
Researchers find unexpected risk factor for suffering a stroke
In the new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch, researchers with the University of Alabama recruited 9,500 black people and 14,500 white people, ages 45 years and older, from across the U.S. None of the participants had any prior history of stroke.
At the study’s outset, the researchers administered a standard, four-item survey to determine how often the participants felt depressed, sad, or lonely, or how often they experienced crying spells. (While studies have long found that people often develop depression after suffering a stroke, very few have looked at it as a factor that increases your risk for suffering one in the first place.)
Then, the researchers followed all the participants over nine years…
Over that time, more than 1,000 strokes occurred among the participants. Ethnicity or race did not affect risk. But it turns out, those who scored higher on the depression survey had a heightened risk. Specifically:
- Those who scored a three out of four had a 39 percent increased risk of suffering a stroke.
- Those who scored a four out of four on the survey, had a 54 percent higher risk of suffering a stroke.
Which suggests physicians should question their patients about depression to help gauge stroke risk, as these researchers now recommend. Be forthright with your emotional and mental status anytime you are meeting with your physician.
In addition, I encourage you to take steps to help avoid depression as you get older. (You can find dozens of safe, natural remedies for depression by perusing my archives. Simply type “depression” into the search box in the top-right corner of my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.)
You can also learn about various ways to reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease, without resorting to harmful drugs and procedures, in my Heart Attack Prevention and Repair Protocol. To learn more about this innovative, online learning tool, or to enroll today, click here now!
Last, keep on the lookout for the signs of stroke by remembering the FAST acronym:
F: Face drooping
A: Arm weakness
S: Speech difficulty
T: Time to call 911
Because when someone suffers a stroke, time is of the essence. And the faster they receive medical treatment, the better.
“Noninvasive cardiac monitoring for detecting paroxysmal atrial fibrillation or flutter after acute ischemic stroke: a systematic review.” Stroke, 2007;38:2935–2940. doi.org/ 10.1161/STROKEAHA.106.478685.
“Depressive symptoms and risk of stroke in a national cohort of blacks and whites from REGARDS.” Neurol Clin Pract, Oct 2020. doi.org/1212/CPJ.0000000000000983