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Is there such a thing as a brain attack?

By July 29, 2016Article
    • Are brain attacks like heart attacks?
    • Warning signs of stroke
    • How serious are strokes? The consequences
    • Who’s likely to get a stroke? The risk factors
    • What can you do about it? Prevention & On-the- spot help
    • The anti-stroke diet

Is there such a thing as a brain attack?

We’ve all heard of heart attacks, but that’s not the only bodily attack out there. There are brain attacks too, and they’re often called strokes. And they’re just as serious.

Are brain attacks like heart attacks?

A brain attack, or stroke, is pretty similar to a heart attack. A heart attack means there’s a problem with the blood flow to your heart, and a brain attack (aka a stroke; let’s call it a stroke from now on) means there’s a problem with the blood flow to your brain. It either stops flowing or is leaking in the wrong places.

Yes, that means there is more than one type of stroke out there. The first one, an ischemic stroke, means the blood flow is stopped or obstructed, usually by a blot clot that has trouble moving along its path or because an artery has become too narrow for blood to flow through properly. This is the most common type of stroke – 9 strokes out of 10 are this one.

The other one is a haemorrhagic stroke, where a blood vessel bursts and causes brain bleeding. It is very difficult to stop and chances of death are higher.

Warning signs of stroke

  • Drooping muscles on one side of the face
  • Trouble seeing with one eye
  • Numbness in an arm or leg
  • Suddenly feeling weak
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe headaches
  • Sudden dizziness or problems with walking or balance
  • Feeling confused, difficulty speaking or understanding others.

The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. A sudden change on just one side of the body is a red flag for a stroke.

How serious are strokes? The consequences

In the best cases, the stroke is temporary – blood flow returns to normal, the symptoms go away, no permanent damage is done. This is a “warning stroke,” or a TIA (transient ischemic attack). Many people who have these attacks don’t realise it, but it shouldn’t be ignored because it’s a sign that a bigger stroke may come soon. TIAs last about a minute on average, and a true stroke may happen in a matter of weeks or months. If you think you’ve had one, don’t ignore it! Get help immediately.

Yet another consequence is long-term disability. When blood isn’t flowing properly to the brain, the brain is not getting enough oxygen and the cells will start to die. The brain in particular, is in charge of all sorts of functions in the body, so damage to it means those functions are also damaged. These include balance, control of your body parts, swallowing and understanding people and things around you. The damage caused by a stroke can leave you unable to stand, move, eat or communicate.

In the worst cases, particularly in the case of haemorrhagic strokes, an attack may lead to death.

Who’s likely to get a stroke? The risk factors

Uncontrollable factors:

  • Family history
  • Getting older
  • Gender (More men get strokes than women. But more women die of strokes)
  • Having a stroke before (both true strokes and TIAs)

Chronic conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Lifestyle & behaviours:

  • Smoking
  • Getting too little exercise
  • Heavy drinking
  • Poor diet (too much fat, salt or calories)

The Stroke Test: Smile, Wave, Talk

The F.A.S.T. test helps spot symptoms of stroke. It stands for:

  • Face. Ask for a smile. Does one side droop?
  • Arms. Ask the person to wave with both hands. When raised, does one side drift down?
  • Speech. Give a simple sentence and ask the person to repeat it. Does he or she have trouble or slur words?
  • Time is critical. Call for an ambulance immediately if any symptoms are present

What can you do about it? Prevention & On-the- spot help

Prevention: chronic conditions
Doctors usually prescribe medicines like blood thinners (e.g. aspirin), anti-clotting drugs (e.g. warfarin) or cholesterol-lowering drugs (e.g. statins) to help ward off stroke in some patients. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medication to lower it.

Prevention: Lifestyle & behaviour changes

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
  • Take less alcohol and salt
  • Eat a healthier diet with more veggies, fish, and whole grains

The anti-stroke diet

Take more omega-3 fatty acids
Common sources:

  • Fish oil
  • Krill oil
  • Chia seed oil
  • Flaxseed oil

Fish oil from salmon or other oily fish is the most commonly known marine source of omega-3, while chia seed oil is the preferred plant source.

Fish oil is losing favour because of the presence of toxic heavy metals or carcinogens often found in such fish. Although fish oil is purified, it’s never 100% free of the heavy metals that accumulate over time. Furthermore, the oil is distilled at high temperatures, which oxidise it and reduce its effectiveness. As a plant source, chia seed oil is safe for all age groups (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) and has a mild, pleasant taste.

Take more Vitamin E
Common sources:

  • Common vegetable oils (e.g. soy, canola, wheatgerm, sunflower)
  • Cereal grains
  • Palm oil
  • Vitamin E is known to be an antioxidant. It helps to lower bad (aka LDL) cholesterol and protect against brain cell damage.

Take more Vitamin K2
Common sources:

  • Natto (Japanese fermented soybeans)

Vitamin K2 helps to prevent arteries from thickening and obstructing blood flow. Thickening occurs because calcium gradually builds up in the arteries instead of the bones. Vitamin K2 helps to direct calcium away from unneeded areas to the bones where they belong, strengthening them.

Take more magnesium

Common sources:

  • Seaweed
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Green beans
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin
  • Sesame seeds

Magnesium is a natural counterpart to calcium, it relaxes the muscles while calcium contracts them. It helps to widen blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and reducing the chances of a stroke.

Take more coenzyme Q10
Common sources:

  • Offal (liver, kidney, heart)
  • Beef
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

Coenzyme Q10 is not just good for your skin, it also widens the blood vessels, which helps to reduce blood pressure and thus, the odds of a stroke. It is found in every cell of the body and is used to produce energy for cell growth and maintenance.