Strokes are much more common among the over 40s now
Strokes are something we associate with old age but new research which has featured prominently in the news recently has identified a rise among people of working age. That means people in their 40s and 50s. I’m in my 40s and I have lots of friends in their 50s, we seem young to me and having a stroke at this age never crossed my mind (no pun intended).
In England in 2014, there were 6,221 hospital admissions for men aged 40 to 54 which is a significant rise in numbers from 14 years earlier (Stroke Association). There’s an awful lot we can do to prevent strokes, you guessed it, through healthy lifestyle. There are various risk factors, with obesity, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet among the main ones.
What causes a stroke?
Strokes are caused when blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. Without blood, your brain cells can be damaged or worse, they can die. Most strokes are caused by clots cutting off the supply of blood, but some can be caused by bleeding around the brain. The ones caused by blockage are due to our arteries becoming harder and narrower with a build up of fatty deposits called plaques, which happens in older age but also due to our lifestyle. This process is known as atherosclerosis.
Things that accelerate fatty deposits in the arteries include smoking (surprise, surprise), high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and excessive amounts of alcohol.
What you can do about high blood pressure
About 30% of people in the UK have high blood pressure but most don’t know it. It’s often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ as it’s largely symptomless. If you’re worried, it’s worth getting your pressure checked at the GP, and symptoms include persistent headaches, blurred or double vision, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, nervousness, sweating and difficulty sleeping. I experienced very high blood pressure as a result of having an overactive thyroid and for months I didn’t realise what was wrong. I felt incredibly nervous and jittery, like I’d had 50 Red Bulls. I had shaky hands, couldn’t sleep, constant headaches and could often hear my pulse in my ears at nighttime.
Blood pressure can of course be treated with medication such as beta-blockers and statins are often prescribed if cholesterol levels are high and there is a risk of hardening arteries. However, there are lots of things we can do proactively to keep our blood pressure down and our arteries clear.
Five things you can do to naturally lower blood pressure
1. Cutting right down on caffeine is an easy win.
Most people feel far less anxious, sleep better and are less irritable or emotionally volatile once they cut it out. We get used to feeling that way and just put it down to the stresses of modern life, but we shouldn’t feel like that. I cut right back on cups of tea as I was feeling so anxious all the time and was shouting excessively at my children (that’s normal, I know) and as soon as I switched to decaf, I felt so much calmer.
2. Stop getting drunk and quit smoking.
Enough said. Boring, I know, but true. Small amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, are considered healthy and can reduce our risk of hardening arteries and high blood pressure. However, it really is small amounts – a tiny glass a day. Massive binge drinking sessions can kill people with high blood pressure, brining on sudden heart attacks, so it really is something to take seriously.
3. Lose weight and do more exercise.
Yeah, boring and difficult, I know. Again, true.
4. Cut right down on salt.
We're pretty ahead of the curve here in the UK on this and there are lots of rules about added salt. Just keep an eye on hidden sources where you don't expect to find salt, like cereals.
Omega 3 fish oil has been proven to lower blood pressure
5. Here’s a really easy one! Take Omega 3 supplements.
You don’t even need to get off the sofa, just pop some capsules. I’m not advocating that supplements shouldn’t be ‘part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle and are in no way intended as a substitute’ but seriously, not many people know that one of the best ways to reduce blood pressure is by increasing your Omega 3 intake.
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recently issued an approved health claim for Omega 3 which is that 3,000mg per day of EPA & DHA combined can reduce blood pressure. These claims are only approved once extensive research has been carried out and there is very strong evidence. Our liquid Lion Heart is the only product on the market that delivers this dose in one teaspoon. If you tried to get this amount from a well known high street brand, you’d have to take 28 capsules.
There are numerous clinical trials which support this health claim, including one which analysed 90 randomised trials and concluded that fish oil reduced systolic blood pressure by 2.1mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.6mmHg and the median dose was 3,700mg of fish oil per day.*
Omega 3 has also been proven to reduce the risk of heart attack due to various factors and is prescribed at high doses to patients who are at risk of, or have suffered from one. A study carried out by Harvard University found that people with high levels of Omega 3 in their bodies have an 80% reduced risk of heart attack.
So, in conclusion, the good news is there’s an awful lot we can do to proactively prevent the risk of stroke and in most cases the causes are lifestyle related. It’s easy to take our health for granted and we don’t think that strokes or heart attacks are relevant to us until we get over a certain age, but we must take care of ourselves as we’re pretty scuppered without a heart or functioning brain!
* Geleijnse JM, Giltay EJ, Grobbee DE, et al. Blood pressure response to fish oil supplementation: metaregression analysis of randomized trials. J Hypertens. 2002 Aug;20(8):1493-9.