It may be hard to believe but according to the American Heart Association, every 40 seconds an American will have a stroke, which adds up to nearly 800,000 new or recurrent strokes each year in the United States. (1) The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that about two-thirds of those people will survive and will require some type of rehabilitation for residual issues resulting from the stroke. (2)
The importance of post-stroke management
According to the American Heart Association, “Every stroke is unique, but strokes tend to affect people in common ways.” The issues associated with a stroke are dependent on which part of the brain is impacted. (3) For example, if the left side of the brain is damaged, there could be paralysis on the right side of the body, speech problems, or memory loss. If the right side of the brain is impacted, there could be vision issues. The poorest outcomes can occur when the stroke happens in the brain stem.
The National Stroke Association puts post-stroke issues into three categories: physical, emotional, and cognitive. (4) The clinical objective is to help patients gain more independence and achieve the highest possible quality of life. In many cases, an integrative approach can help complement a stroke rehabilitation program.
Nutrients and herbs to consider
Physical issues after a stroke are common and can include muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, sleep disturbances, and others. Many of these problems respond well to an integrative approach. Targeted nutrients and herbs can help with post-stroke management. Here are just a few examples featured in the scientific literature.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogen that has been shown to play an important supportive role in patients who’ve had a stroke. Several in vivo studies have shown that ashwagandha can help with stroke management via key mechanisms including its positive effects on mitochondria, apoptosis, and cognition. (5) The authors of the 2016 in vivo study published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology concluded, “The results of the study showed a protective effect of WS supplementation in ischemic stroke and are suggestive of its potential application in stroke management.” (6)
According to a review featured in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, ginseng is “a promising neuroprotective strategy in stroke.” (7) A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase II multicenter trial published in the European Journal of Neurology in 2009 also showed that ginseng had some beneficial effects in acute ischemic stroke. (8) In addition, a 2018 systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concluded that “ginseng is a promising treatment for fatigue.” (9)
Did you know? Both ashwagandha and ginseng have been shown to help with fatigue and muscle weakness, which are issues that many post-stroke patients have.
S-adenosyl methionine, omega-3 fatty acids, L-theanine and saffron
From an emotional standpoint, there are many herbs and nutrients that can help with issues of anxiety and depression including S-adenosyl methionine, omega-3 fatty acids, L-theanine, and saffron. A 2018 randomized, double-blind trial featured in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine found that saffron not only improved depressive issues, it also reduced homocysteine. (10) A 2017 open-label study published in the journal Acta Neuropsychiatrica found that L-theanine helped improve depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and cognitive function in patients with major depressive disorder. (11)
Supporting neuroprotection and neuro repair is an important goal post-stroke. Citicoline is a natural compound shown to enhance brain function, specifically attention span and focus. According to a 2013 review published in the journal Brain Sciences, “Long-term treatment with citicoline is safe and effective, improving post-stroke cognitive decline and enhancing patients’ functional recovery.” (12)
The herb Ginkgo biloba is commonly used to support brain health. Specifically, regarding post-stroke, a 2018 randomized, controlled trial published in the journal Stroke and Vascular Neurology showed that Ginkgo biloba plus aspirin helped alleviate cognitive and neurological deficits after ischemic stroke compared to aspirin alone. (13)
The bottom line
In addition to these specialty nutrients, certain vitamins have been shown to help support brain health. Essential oils can also help enhance brain function. And finally, if patients are able to exercise, that will also improve health outcomes specific to brain function. Integrative practitioners can help post-stroke patients by recommending a combination of dietary supplements and lifestyle advice. This integrative approach is designed to help patients achieve improved functionality and a better quality of life. Post-stroke activities, including diet and exercise, can be better managed by a mindful integration of natural supplements, such as those illustrated above, therapy as well as a positive mindset!
- Benjamin E J, Muntner P, Alonso A, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 Update: a report from the American Heart Association. 2019;139(10).
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Post-stroke rehabilitation fact sheet. Accessed online April 2019.
- American Heart Association. Effects of Stroke. Accessed online April 2019.
- National Stroke Association. Post-stroke conditions. Accessed online April 2019.
- Sood A, Mehrotra A, Dhawan DK, Sandhir R. Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera) supplementation ameliorates oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunctions in experimental model of stroke. Metabolic Brain Disease. 2018;33(4):1261-1274.
- Sood A, Kumar A, Dhawan DK, Sandhir R. Protensity of Withania somnifera to attenuate behavioural, biochemical, and histological alterations in experimental model of stroke. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology. 2016;36(7):1123-38.
- Rastogi V, Santiago-Moreno J, Sore S. Ginseng: a promising neuroprotective strategy in stroke. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 2014;8:457.
- Liu X, Xia J, Wang L, et al. Efficacy and safety of genenoside-Rd for acute ischaemic stroke: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase II multicenter trial. European Journal of Neurology. 2009;16(5):569-75.
- Arring NM, Millstine D, Marks LA, Nail LM. Ginseng as a treatment for fatigue: a systematic review. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2018;24(7):624-633.
- Jelodar G, Javid Z, Sahraian A, Jelodar S. Saffron improved depression and reduced homocysteine levels in patients with major depression: a randomized, double-blind study. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. 2018;8(1):43-50.
- Hidese S, Ota M, Wakabayashi C, et al. Effects of chronic L-theanine administration in patients with major depressive disorder: an open label study. Acta Neuropsychiatrica. 2017;29(2):72-79.
- Alvarez-Sabin J, Roman GC. The role of citicoline in neuroprotection and neurorepair in ischemic stroke. Brain Sciences. 2013;3(3):1395-1414.
- Li S, Zhang X, Fang Q, et al. Ginkgo biloba extract improved cognitive and neurological functions of acute ischemic stroke: a randomized controlled trial. Stroke and Vascular Neurology. 2017;2(4).