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7 Essential Nutrients to Promote Stroke Recovery & Brain Health

Stroke is one of the top deadliest diseases around the world. It occurs when our brain’s blood flow is interrupted, primarily due to a rupture or blockage in a blood vessel. It’s very dangerous that someone dies of it every 3.5 minutes in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is that it isn’t always fatal.

How you’re affected by a stroke depends on where it happens and its severity. Fast treatment matters as well. In fact, the earlier you get treated, the higher your chance of surviving, resulting in little or no disability.

After hospital treatment, stroke survivors must focus on post-stroke care and rehabilitation. They also have to monitor underlying causes of stroke, like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, to prevent another stroke.

If you, your loved one, or someone you know are a stroke survivor, the following essential nutrients can promote stroke recovery and brain health. We’ve also listed three “S” that you should limit or preferably avoid on your diet at all times.

Essential Nutrients That Promote Stroke Recovery

1) Omega-3 Fats

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or omega-3 fatty acids after stroke offers neurological benefits. A study showed that they could prevent cerebral atrophy or the loss of brain cells called neurons. It can also promote the restoration of the brain’s white matter, which is responsible for conducting, processing, and sending nerve signals up and down the spinal cord.

The prevention of further brain deterioration and recovery of brain tissues by omega-3 fatty acids can help in neuroplasticity, where stroke recovery mainly revolves. It’s the brain’s ability to rewire itself, especially to improve talking, moving, and walking after a stroke.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also found to help normalize brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, which also play a significant role in stroke rehabilitation. Studies have shown that lower circulating BDNF levels are typically linked to higher stroke risks and poor recovery.

The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in particular, has positive effects on atherosclerosis. It’s the hardening and narrowing of artery walls due to cholesterol plaques. When arteries narrow, the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other vital organs reduces, which can result in a stroke.

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However, little research shows that DHA “prevents” atherosclerosis. Alternatively, this atherosclerotic plaque is usually stabilized with lipitor.

Omega-3 fats are usually found in fatty fishes, such as mackerels, salmon, cod, herrings, sardines, and anchovies. You can also get them from other seafood like algae, oysters, and caviar. Other seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are rich in omega-3 too.

2) Vitamin D

One study shows that the lack or low level of vitamin D is associated with ischemic stroke, which is caused by a clogged artery in the brain. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, all top stroke causes.

Conversely, having enough vitamin D comes with several health advantages. It provides neuromuscular, neuroprotective, and osteoprotective benefits. In other words, it helps recover one’s brain damage and protects and improves bones, muscles, and the brain, which most stroke survivors need.

Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because you can naturally get it from sun exposure. It’s recommended to be under the sun during off-peak hours, usually before 10:00 am and after 4:00 pm. However, if medical restrictions prohibit sun exposure, dietary sources like cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish can serve as alternatives.

3) Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 promotes axonal growth after a stroke. Axons transmit electrical signals to other neurons to help with sensory perception and movement. After a stroke, many axons are destroyed, resulting in a loss of function.

Vitamin B12 can help repair these damaged axons, regenerate neurons, and boost neural communications, promoting a fuller stroke recovery.

Vitamin B12 can also help prevent another stroke. According to one study, it reduces the recurrence of strokes by about 10%. It does so by lowering homocysteine levels in the blood. They’re amino acids linked to heart disease and stroke.

Vitamin B12 is mainly taken from animal sources, such as seafood (salmon, sardines, shrimp, and clams), egg yolks, dairies (milk, cheese, and yogurt), beef, and liver. There are vitamin B12 supplements available, too but ask your doctor first since they might impact preexisting health conditions or interact with your current medications.

4) Vitamin B3

Nicotinic acid, niacin, or vitamin B3 is a potent means of raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol levels. The more good cholesterol you have, the lower your risk for another stroke.

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On the other hand, too much cholesterol in your blood can cause atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Vitamin B3 may also help enhance neurological function after a stroke. It directly affects neuroplasticity, protects brain cells, and improves cognitive function. However, clinical trials and research in this area are still limited and underway.

The good thing is that vitamin B3 deficiency is very rare since it’s found in many animal and plant sources. The typical niacin sources are poultry, fish, red meat, brown rice, fortified bread and cereal, nuts and seeds, bananas, and legumes.

5) Vitamin C

Research shows that survivors of hemorrhagic stroke (the bleeding in the brain caused by a ruptured blood vessel) had depleted levels of vitamin C than healthier people. This made vitamin C deficiency a stroke risk factor.

In contrast, another study reported that having enough vitamin C can reduce the risk of ischemic stroke. Specifically, it can inhibit low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol oxidation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces atherosclerosis. In addition, it aids in repairing blood vessel damage after a stroke.

Fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of Vitamin C. The best sources are citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower), bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and white potatoes.

6) Probiotics

Probiotics don’t only support gut health but also brain health. In fact, our gut produces several neurotransmitters that the brain does, so it’s called the “second brain.” Particularly, the gut can also produce dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which all regulate mood.

When combined with enteral nutrition (EN), probiotics can also promote stroke recovery. One study shows that while the combined treatment was unable to reduce the National Institutes of Health stroke scale (NIHSS) scores, it shortened the stroke patients’ hospital stays and bed rest durations.

Probiotics are typically taken from fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kombucha, tempeh, and natto. However, not all fermented foods are created equal. Be careful with other fermented foods that are preserved in salt, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles.

7) CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a powerful antioxidant that protects you from free radicals. With this, it may reduce damage after a stroke. It also improves your heart health, which means it may prevent another stroke. Typically, heart disorders can increase your risk for stroke.

CoQ10 administration has been found to exert neuroprotective effects. A study shows that it increases both brain and brain mitochondrial (the brain’s main energy generators) concentrations, which could help treat neurodegenerative diseases that a stroke can trigger.

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While CoQ10 is usually consumed as a supplement, it can also be found in some dietary foods. You can get it from organ meats (heart, liver, and kidney), fatty fishes (herring, mackerel, trout,  and sardines), fruits (oranges and strawberries), cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower and broccoli), legumes (soybeans, lentils, and peanuts), and oils (soybean and canola oil).

3S to Avoid During Stroke Recovery

Salt, sugar, and saturated fats are three things that you should avoid in your stroke recovery diet. Firstly, salt inhibits producing new brain cells and improves your BDNF levels, the total opposite of your stroke recovery goals.

Even worse, high salt intake prompts hypertension, a precursor to a stroke. Instead of salt, use herbs and spices to season dishes. In just a few weeks, your taste buds will eventually adjust.

Secondly, excessive sugar intake can also lead to stroke risks, such as diabetes, obesity, dyslipidemia (irregular lipid levels in the blood), and hypertension. Alternatively, opt for low-calorie natural sweeteners instead.

There are also low-calorie sweeteners recommended to diabetics by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These include stevia, tagatose, sucralose, aspartame, Ace-K, saccharin, and neotame.

Lastly, saturated fats spike bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels, increasing the risks of heart disease and stroke. They are typically from fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and highly and ultra-processed foods.

For example, butter, hard margarine, lard, coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), vegetable ghee, palm oil, hotdogs, burgers, French fries, cakes, cookies, and chips have high levels of saturated fat. Avoid these foods at all costs.

Final Thoughts

Strokes can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and proper medical treatment. Always keep a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. If you’re suffering from certain medical conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, seek professional help.

While stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability, you can protect yourself through prevention. Start by knowing the risks, then take care of your health.

Video: 7 Steps to Stoke Recovery

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