Wondering how to prevent a stroke? You’re not alone. Stroke is now the top cause of disability nationwide — and it turns out that women are twice as likely as men to have one. Even scarier? The risk increases each year.
But there is good news: The latest research reveals that you can significantly reduce your stroke risk just by making these eight simple and natural lifestyle changes.
1. Take B vitamins.
Just taking a daily B-complex supplement could cut your risk of ever having a stroke by 25 percent, Canadian researchers say. Stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked or bursts; this family of eight essential nutrients helps keep those blood vessels clear of clogs. One option: Twinlab’s Stress B-Complex Caps ($12 for 100 capsules, Amazon). Follow package directions for dosage. Important: Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement for the first time.
2. Up your intake of vitamin E with sunflower seeds.
Snacking on 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds every day can slash your odds of having a stroke by 29 percent in two weeks, a Tufts University study found. The seeds are chock-full of two essential forms of vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), which team up to lower inflammation in your brain’s blood vessels.
3. Eat potassium-rich tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce is loaded with potassium (1 cup has 900 mg), and a diet rich in potassium can lower your stroke risk by 20 percent. How? “Potassium reduces the effects of dietary sodium by helping to regulate blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke,” says nutritionist Maya Feller, RD. Tip: Adding a little olive oil to your sauce increases its stroke-preventing effects. “Olive oil helps quell inflammation in the blood vessels that could otherwise lead to stroke,” says Schoffro Cook, author of Weekend Wonder Detox. In fact, a study of adults age 65 and older found that regularly using olive oil in place of other fats sent their stroke risk plunging 40 percent.
4. Eat tropical fruits.
Enjoying one cup of pineapple, mango, papaya, or any other tropical fruit each day slashes your stroke risk by 33 percent, report researchers in the journal Stroke. Tropical fruits are rich in carotenoids — nutrients that strengthen and heal blood vessel walls — and help prevent blood clots, says study coauthor Demetrius Albanes, MD.
5. Get enough sleep.
Even if you don’t make a single other change to your diet or lifestyle, ensuring that you get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly could send your stroke risk plunging down by 35 percent in one month, research in the journal Neurology suggests. Sleep is your body’s prime time to repair any brain blood vessels that are aging or worn, explains study coauthor Claudio Bassetti, MD. Tip: If you have trouble sleeping through the night, wearing foam earplugs could reduce your risk of frustrating middle-of-the-night awakenings by 35 percent or more, say British researchers.
6. Drink enough water.
Simply knocking one soda (sweetened or sugar-free) out of your daily diet — and replacing it with 16 oz of water — reduces your risk of a stroke by 53 percent. According to Loma Linda University research, soda contains chemicals that can make blood sticky and more likely to clot. Plain water does the opposite — it thins blood, reducing the risk of clots forming. Tip: Make plain water extra-refreshing by adding a splash of unsweetened orange, cranberry, or purple grape juice or a few slices of fresh lemon or lime.
7. Nix stress by breathing deeply.
The journal Hypertension reports that how we react to life’s annoyances might put us at a higher risk of stroke. “Stress — and angry outbursts, in particular — can triple your stroke risk, especially within two hours of the outburst,” explains naturopath Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD. “Anger sends hormones like adrenaline and cortisol skyrocketing, which can put undue stress on blood vessels.” Not to worry: Just breathing deeply is study-proven to rapidly decrease stress on you and your blood vessels. A technique called “lucky seven” is especially easy and effective: Whenever you feel stress or anger rising, slowly breathe in to a count of seven, hold for seven, and then exhale for another count of seven. Repeat for three minutes.
8. Tend to your garden.
No matter how healthy you are right now, puttering around for an hour each day in your garden could slash your stroke risk by as much as 67 percent. As Mayo Clinic researchers explain, physical activity sends more nutrient-rich blood to your brain, while also helping to prevent (and treat!) artery-damaging high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke.