According to the American Heart Association, every 40 seconds an American will have a stroke. This 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 stroke-related complications. (10)
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood circulation to the brain is halted. This lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain can cause brain cells to die. (3) A stroke can be caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain (ischemic stroke) or from bleeding into the brain (hemorrhage stroke). Strokes caused by blockages may form from a clot inside a blood vessel in the neck or brain, a clot from another part of the body, or an artery that’s been highly narrowed in or leading to the brain. (3)
According to the American Heart Association, every stroke is different, but strokes often affect people in similar ways. The issues associated with a stroke are dependent on which part of the brain is impacted. (6) For example, if the left side of the brain is damaged, the individual may experience paralysis on the right side of the body, speech problems, or memory loss. If the right side of the brain is impacted, vision issues may occur. If a stroke occurs in the brain stem, a small area at the base of the brain that controls all basic functions of the central nervous system, outcomes may be more complex. Symptoms of brain stem strokes may include vertigo, dizziness, and slurred speech. A brainstem stroke may result in double-vision, decreased consciousness, slurred speech, or locked-in syndrome, a condition where individuals can only move their eyes. (4)(6)
The National Stroke Association puts post-stroke issues into three categories: physical, emotional, and cognitive. (6) The clinical objective is to help patients gain more independence and achieve the highest possible quality of life. An integrative approach may include physical rehabilitation, recreational therapy (art, music, movement, drama, volunteering, relaxation), (7) and receiving psychological support from a qualified therapist. (5)
Nutrients and herbs to consider
Physical issues after a stroke are common and can include symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbances. 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 demonstrated that ashwagandha can help with stroke management via key mechanisms including its positive effects on mitochondrial functions and cognition. (13) The authors of 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.” (12)
According to a review featured in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, Ginsenoside-Rd, a ginseng compound, may be a promising neuroprotective strategy in stroke. (11) A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase II multicenter trial published in the European Journal of Neurology in 2009 also showed that ginsenoside-Rd had some beneficial effects in acute ischemic stroke based on results of the group consuming the ginsenoside-RD compared to the placebo group, using the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale. (9)
Supporting neuroprotection and neurorepair is an important goal post-stroke. Citicoline is a natural compound shown to enhance brain function, specifically attention span and focus. (2) According to a 2013 review published in the journal Brain Sciences, a long-term treatment with citicoline may improve post-stroke cognitive decline and enhance an individual’s functional recovery. (2)
4. Ginkgo biloba
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. (8)
The bottom line
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! Speak to your integrative healthcare provider before making any changes to your current health protocol.
- AHA 2019 heart disease and stroke statistics. (2019). American College of Cardiology. https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2019/02/15/14/39/aha-2019-heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics
- Álvarez-Sabín, J., & Román, G. (2013). The role of citicoline in neuroprotection and neurorepair in ischemic stroke. Brain Sciences, 3(4), 1395–1414.
- Brain basics: Preventing stroke | national institute of neurological disorders and stroke. (n.d.). National Institute of Health. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Preventing-Stroke
- Brain stem stroke. (n.d.). Www.Stroke.Org. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/types-of-stroke/brain-stem-stroke
- Depression and Stroke. (n.d.). Www.Stroke.Org. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke/emotional-effects-of-stroke/depression-and-stroke
- Effects of stroke. (n.d.). American Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke
- Healing from Stroke. (n.d.). Www.Stroke.Org. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke/physical-effects-of-stroke/healing
- Li, S., Zhang, X., Fang, Q., Zhou, J., Zhang, M., Wang, H., Chen, Y., Xu, B., Wu, Y., Qian, L., & Xu, Y. (2017). Ginkgo biloba extract improved cognitive and neurological functions of acute ischaemic stroke: A randomised controlled trial. Stroke and Vascular Neurology, 2(4), 189–197.
- Liu, X., Xia, J., Wang, L., Song, Y., Yang, J., Yan, Y., Ren, H., & Zhao, G. (2009). Efficacy and safety of ginsenoside-Rd for acute ischaemic stroke: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase II multicenter trial. European Journal of Neurology, 16(5), 569–575.
- Post-Stroke rehabilitation fact sheet | national institute of neurological disorders and stroke. (2020). NIH. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Post-Stroke-Rehabilitation-Fact-Sheet
- Rastogi, V., Santiago-Moreno, J., & DorÃ©, S. (2015). Ginseng: A promising neuroprotective strategy in stroke. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 8.
- Sood, A., Kumar, A., Dhawan, D. K., & Sandhir, R. (2015). Propensity of withania somnifera to attenuate behavioural, biochemical, and histological alterations in experimental model of stroke. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 36(7), 1123–1138.
- Sood, A., Mehrotra, A., Dhawan, D. K., & Sandhir, R. (2018). Indian ginseng (withania somnifera) supplementation ameliorates oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunctions in experimental model of stroke. Metabolic Brain Disease, 33(4), 1261–1274.