A new study was published in The Lancet (June 10 issue, if you are interested), in which many very smart researchers looked at a lot of stroke studies and figured out that 80% of all strokes are related to five fisk factors, and 90% of strokes are related to the top 10 risk factors. The top five risk factors and most of the top 10 are all modifiable, which means you can do something about them and significantly reduce your risk of having a stroke. If you know anyone who has had a stroke, you know how much you want to avoid having one yourself.
Here’s the list, from the highest risk factor to the lowest:
- Hypertension: the risk is especially high when at 160/90 mm Hg or higher. Talk to your doctor about how to keep your blood pressure under 120/80; 110/70 is even better. Reduce sodium and sugar in your diet, increase physical activity to at least four hours a week (see #5) and find ways to reduce your stress levels (#10) like yoga and meditation. You will see your numbers go down.
- Smoking: current smoking is the big risk factor here, so there is still time to reduce your risk by quitting now. Ask your doctor for help, there are lots of options out there and while I know it is really hard, living with brain damage is much harder.
- Waist-to-hip ratio: if your waist is larger than your hips, measured around with a dressmaker-type tape measure, you are at a greater risk of having a stroke. If this is you and you are having trouble losing the tummy pudge, send me an email and I’ll get you some strategies to help.
- Diet: fruit and fish reduce risk; red meat, organ meats, lots of eggs, processed foods, deep-fried foods, pizza, salty snacks, and cooking with lard increase risk. Interestingly, vegetables were neutral in terms of risk – maybe that’s because so few people eat enough to make a difference. But that’s not us, right?
- Physical activity: get moving at a moderate pace or more, for at least four hours a week and you can significantly reduce your risk. And probably lose some of that pesky belly bulge – cutting two risks at once. Serious multi-tasking.
- Diabetes: you may or may not be able to change this, but keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level is important for so many reasons.
- Alcohol intake: keep it at less than 4 drinks a week for women, at no more than one a day; men, you can have up to two drinks a day, up to five days a week max.
- Cardiac causes: atrial fibrillation was the big risk factor here.
- Ratio of apolipoprotein B to A1: your cardiologist or internist can help you determine this ratio with your next blood test.
- Psychological factors: specifically stress and depression. If these are issues for you, like they are for many of us, please talk to your doctor or a qualified counselor.
One very interesting finding is that blood cholesterol levels have little to do with stroke risk; however, the ratio of apolipoprotein B to apolipoprotein A1 is significant. Cholesterol does have a significant role to play in heart disease and heart attacks, so please keep it at healthy levels. Just saying.
Another interesting finding is that while BMI (Body Mass Index), or your weight-to-height ratio, has little bearing on stroke risk, your waist-to-hip ratio is one of the top five. This does not mean it is healthy to be overweight, it just means that abdominal fat puts you at a higher risk for having a stroke and you can reduce your risk by getting rid of it.
Studies like these are important because they give us the power to keep ourselves healthy.
There is a lot of information here, and if you would like me to go into more detail about any of this, just let me know in the comments section. It’s what I do.