Finding ways to reduce your stroke risk is incredibly important for building a healthy future. The gold-standard strategy previously thought to prevent a stroke, however, may not be that effective. Thankfully, new studies suggest simple tweaks that may help. It’s all about making those healthy swaps!
Skip the aspirin and make small lifestyle changes.
You’ve heard that taking a baby aspirin every day curbs the risk of stroke, but the latest research contradicts that advice. According to a new study by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, starting a new regimen of low-dose aspirin is associated with an increased risk of internal bleeding. For that reason, they no longer recommend the strategy. (If you’re already taking baby aspirin, talk to your doctor before making any changes).
So, what can you do to prevent stroke? In a word: plenty. “The latest research from the sweeping INTERSTROKE study involving 32 countries shows that the top risk factors are easily controlled by small lifestyle changes, which help prevent 80 percent to 90 percent of strokes,” assures Amytis Towfighi, MD, associate medical director and chief of neurological services at Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center and co-author of What You Must Know About Strokes (Buy from Amazon, $16.95).
Ready to put some of those lifestyle changes into action? Read on to learn the best natural strategies to protect you from stroke and improve your health from head (to heart) to toe.
Best Supplement: Vitamin K-2
It’s rare that a doctor admits to being “floored” by a study, but that’s how cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, describes his reaction to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which showed that vitamin K-2 slashes stroke risk by 64 percent. “K-2 is found in hard cheeses like Gouda, and researchers found the more of this nutrient folks consumed, the stronger their arteries, decreasing stroke risk,” he says. “K-2 removes calcium from blood vessels and puts it back into your bones, where it belongs. And when arteries are free of calcified plaque, stroke risk plummets.” To get the perks, try supplementing daily, as Dr. Sinatra does. A brand to try: Doctor’s Best Vitamin K-2 MK-7 (Buy from iHerb, $8.31).
Best Food: An Apple a Day
“One of the most exciting new scientific discoveries is the link between stroke risk and high levels of uric acid,” says David Perlmutter, MD, author of Drop Acid: The Surprising New Science of Uric Acid (Buy from Amazon, $26.10). The body produces uric acid when it breaks down fructose from food, but this causes crystals to form in blood vessels, increasing the risk of clots.
“But there is so much we can do to bring uric acid levels under control,” he assures. “In fact, the nutrient quercetin substantially lowers uric acid levels.” Indeed, the flavonoid attacks an enzyme key to uric-acid production.
To make sure you get enough, snack on quercetin-rich apples and pears. In a recent study, folks who ate plenty of “white-flesh” produce (apples, pears, bananas and cauliflower) lowered their risk of stroke by 52 percent.
Best Sip: This Fruity Tea
Drinking three cups of tea (or coffee) a day sinks stroke risk by 32 percent, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine. “Tea contains powerful polyphenols that help keep blood vessels elastic,” says cardiologist Patrick Fratellone, MD. And while green tea is brimming with these compounds, Dr. Fratellone believes hawthorn berry tea has a slight edge in terms of stroke prevention. “It lowers blood pressure and improves circulation,” he adds.
In fact, animal studies show that hawthorn berry extract lowers bad cholesterol — a key risk factor for stroke — by nearly 50 percent. If you prefer a capsule instead of a cuppa, Fratellone suggests aiming for 250 milligrams of hawthorn extract twice a day. One to try: Nature’s Way Hawthorn (Buy from Invite Health, $9.99).
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.