People with atrial fibrillation are often given aspirin or anticoagulant medication to reduce blood clotting tendencies. Some natural inhibitors of blood clotting exist, such as garlic,17,18,19 fish oils,20 and vitamin E.21,22 However, even large amounts of fish oil are known to be less potent than aspirin,23 and whether any of these substances would be adequate substitutes for controlling the risk of stroke due to atrial fibrillation remains unknown. Anyone taking anticoagulant medication should advise their prescribing doctor before beginning to use any of these natural substances.
Elevated homocysteine levels in the blood have been linked to increased thickening of the carotid artery.24 Homocysteine can be lowered with folic acid, vitamin B6, or vitamin B12. (See the High Homocysteine section for more information.) However, whether lowering of elevated homocysteine helps prevent carotid stenosis or stroke is unknown.
Preliminary studies have found that people who eat foods high in antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E have less risk carotid stenosis.25,26 In a double-blind study, people with atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries were given a palm oil extract containing 160–240 mg tocotrienols (a vitamin E-like supplement) and approximately 100–150 IU vitamin E per day. After 18 months, they had significantly less atherosclerosis or at least less progression of atherosclerosis compared to a group receiving placebo.27 Reducing carotid atherosclerosis should reduce the risk of suffering a stroke.
Evidence regarding the role of unsaturated fats (primarily found in vegetable oils, cooked and processed foods made with vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) is equally unclear,59,60,61 suggesting that unsaturated fats may have different effects on different types of stroke, or that some unsaturated fats differ from others in their influence on stroke risk. Similarly, the benefits of eating fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, remain unknown. Fish consumption has been linked to reduced stroke risk in some,62,63 but not all64,65 studies.
Increasing dietary potassium has lowered blood pressure in humans, which by itself should reduce the risk of stroke;76 however, some of the protective effect of potassium appears to extend beyond its ability to lower blood pressure.77 Maintaining a high potassium intake is best achieved by eating fruits and vegetables. Avocados, potatoes, watermelon and soybeans are particularly high in potassium.
Those who have suffered a TIA are at high risk for suffering a stroke. As a result, they should also adopt lifestyle and dietary changes to lower their risk, as well as consult their medical doctor for possible drug treatment. People with a history of TIAs who took 400 IU of vitamin E per day with a small amount of aspirin had fewer attacks over the following two years than those who took only aspirin in a double-blind study.143
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