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 Easy Ways to Prevent Stroke 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Women's Nutrition Detective by . View all columns in series

The Framingham Heart Study discovered that people who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day had twice the risk for stroke as those who smoked half a pack daily. The more a person smoked the greater their risk. When they stopped smoking, their risk started to decrease within two years. Five years after stopping, ex-smokers had the same low risk as a non-smoker. As difficult as it may be, I implore you to stop smoking.

Alcohol can either increase or decrease your risk for stroke, depending on how much you drink. Studies have shown that one or two drinks a day may be protective in a similar way as taking aspirin, since both reduce the clotting ability of platelets. The less clotting, the fewer blood clots there are to get stuck in arteries.

But heavy drinking has the opposite effect. One reason is that it tends to increase blood pressure. Heavy drinking can also reduce platelets and thin the blood too much. Perhaps the most important reason to keep alcohol consumption low is heavy drinking or binge drinking can cause a rebound effect after you stop. At this point, blood gets thicker and platelets increase dramatically, skyrocketing your risk for stroke.

Young women with migraines have a three times greater risk for stroke than those who never have them, says a study reported in Therapy Weekly (May 1, 1999). Forty percent of strokes in young women were associated with migraines. However, when blood pressure was under control and they stopped smoking (or didn't smoke), their risk was reduced to no more than that of anyone else. This study also found that oral contraceptives added to stroke risk for women with migraines.

Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict and reduces blood flow to the brain by up to 30 percent. It prevents blood vessels from relaxing, which can lead to narrower arteries. We think these blood-vessel changes increase blood pressure and block or reduce blood flow to the brain.

All you need for a cocaine-related stroke is for one blood clot to form when blood vessels constrict and then pop free to clog up an artery. If you’ve used cocaine with no serious side effects, consider yourself lucky. If you use it, it’s time to stop, especially if you have been a smoker. Why? Smoking increases vascular fragility and, with cocaine use, increases the risk for stroke.

An anti-stroke diet
The first step in preventing stroke is lowering your risks. The next step is a diet high in protective nutrients. Your body needs magnesium and potassium, (found in a diet high in beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) to keep blood vessels from becoming fragile.

Eating whole grains lowers your risk for stroke, says the Nurse's Health Study, a 12-year study of 75,000 women. This study found that even when women ate saturated fats (animal fats) and trans-fatty acids (margarines), those who ate more whole grains had fewer strokes than those who ate refined flours and white rice.

Eat more protective fats, such as fish, raw walnuts, and flax oil, all high in essential fatty acids (EFAs), that support your immune system. Keep animal fats low by reducing your portions and having at least one or two meat-free days (except for fish). Olive oil and canola oil both acceptable, but they don’t contain EFAs. Make sure you get enough protective essential fats as well.

The amount of vitamin C in your blood may be a predictor of a low stroke risk, said Tetsuji Yokoyama, MD, who headed a study published in the journal, Stroke (Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, October 2000).

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 About The Author
Nan Fuchs, Ph.D. is an authority on nutrition and the editor and writer of Women's Health Letter, the leading health advisory on nutritional healing for......moreNan Fuchs PhD
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