Say No to Stroke

Say No to Stroke

Julian Whitaker, MD

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country. The majority of those who make it through a stroke do not survive unscathed. Lingering speech, motor, and vision problems are common. The greatest tragedy is that up to 80 percent of all strokes can be prevented.

It’s pretty well known that high blood pressureheart diseasehigh cholesterol, obesitydiabetes, atrial fibrillation, smoking, and excessive alcohol use increase risk of stroke, so you need to do everything you can to get these things under control. You’ve probably also heard that drugs such as Celebrex and Aleve increase risk, so they should be avoided as well.

Here are a few more things you need to know that will reduce your risk of stroke.

New Links Between Stroke and Snoring

Snoring, waking up tired, feeling sleepy all day: These are the cardinal signs of sleep apnea, which is caused by blockage of the airways by the tissues in the back of the throat during sleep.

According to Vahid Mohsenin, MD, director of the Yale Center for Sleep Disorders, sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for stroke that afflicts more than half of stroke patients studied. This is not surprising. Sleep apnea triples the risk of hypertension, quadruples risk of arrhythmia, and increases risk of diabetes five-fold. It elevates levels of C-reactive protein, oxidative stress, and clotting factors in the blood. It also reduces oxygen delivery to the brain and induces changes in cerebral blood flow.

At Whitaker Wellness, we screen all of our patients who have any symptoms of sleep apnea or conditions resulting from it with an inexpensive test called nocturnal pulse oximetry. It’s a clip-on sensor you wear on one of your fingers that records your pulse and the oxygen levels in your blood every four seconds throughout the night. When we find that oxygen levels are low, we prescribe an automatic continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or refer them to a sleep specialist for a polysomnogram.

Unfortunately, most doctors aren’t up to speed on all the repercussions of sleep apnea, so you may have to press your physician or order a nocturnal pulse oximetry test yourself

Live or Die by Diet

What you eat also significantly impacts your risk of stroke. You need to increase your consumption of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, for high blood levels of this mineral are associated with better blood pressure control and a reduced risk of stroke. You should also eat more fish. A Harvard study recently demonstrated that eating broiled or baked fish up to four times a week lowered risk by 28 percent, and five times a week by almost a third. (Fried fish and fish sandwiches, however, raised risk.) Moderate amounts of alcohol are also protective. In a 14-year study of more than 38,000 men, the lowest stroke risk was observed among men who drank one or two drinks three or four days a week.

Perhaps the most encouraging study is an evaluation of the long-term dietary patterns of more than 71,000 women. The women who ate a “Western” diet, including  red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and desserts, had a 58 percent higher risk of stroke than those who ate a “prudent” diet, consisting of high intakes of vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and whole grains. The best news, according to Harvard professor Meir Stampfer, MD, is that recent dietary habits, as opposed to what study subjects might have eaten for 10 or 15 years previously, had a greater impact on stroke risk.

Supplements for Stroke Prevention

I also recommend a few nutritional supplements for stroke prevention. High doses of vitamin C, magnesium, and fish oil have all been shown to reduce stroke risk, so it is vital to include these in your daily supplement regimen. The body of research supporting the role of high homocysteine in increasing stroke risk is growing, so I also suggest that you take reasonable doses of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.

In addition, I recommend that you add nattokinase. Nattokinase is an enzyme derived from natto, a traditional Japanese fermented soy food. It has the remarkable ability to prevent and dissolve blood clots. This is because it closely resembles plasmin, the enzyme produced in the body that dissolves fibrin, a protein that forms a “net” around blood clots. Like C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood levels of fibrin rise when inflammation is present, and inflammation is a serious risk factor for stroke. Nattokinase removes excess fibrin from the blood, lowering inflammation and improving circulation as well as reducing risk of harmful blood clots.

Start a Stroke Prevention Program

Sidestepping a stroke is one thing you do not want to leave to chance. Get started on the above dietary and supplement recommendations, exercise regularly, rule out sleep apnea, and just say no to stroke.


  • Nocturnal pulse oximetry is an excellent, relatively inexpensive screening for sleep apnea that requires no prescription and can be done in the privacy of your own home. For more information, contact the Whitaker Wellness Institute at (866) 944-8253.
  • A potent multivitamin (not a one-a-day) should contain adequate doses of the vitamins and minerals needed for stroke prevention. The recommended dose of nattokinase is 100 mg daily in divided doses. Look for it in health food stores or order by calling (800) 810-6655.


  • Fung, TT et al. Prospective study of major dietary patterns and stroke risk in women. Stroke. 2004 Sep;35(9):2014-9.
  • Mohsenin, V. Is sleep apnea a risk factor for stroke? A critical analysis. Minerva Med. 2004 Aug;95(4):291-305.
  • Mozaffarian D et al. Fish consumption and stroke risk in elderly individuals: the cardiovascular health study. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jan 24;165(2):200-206.
  • Mukamal, KJ et al. Alcohol and risk for ischemic stroke in men: the role of drinking patterns and usual beverage. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan 4;142(1):11-19.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2005. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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