Omega 3 reduces stroke damage says new study

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According to a brand new study by researchers Jasna Kriz and Frederic Calon from the Universite Laval’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada and published in the journal ‘Stroke’ eating a diet that is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids could reduce the amount of brain damage incurred after a stroke.

The neuro-protective benefit appears to come from the anti-inflammatory properties of Omega 3. “It prevents an acute inflammatory response that, if not controlled, is harmful to brain tissue” said Kriz

According to the Stroke Association, around 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK each year resulting in around 53,000 deaths. So what exactly is a stroke and can we do anything to prevent one?

Blood supply to the brain

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off which can result in damage to brain cells or death of the brain cells causing loss of function in the body.

Causes

There are 3 main things which can cause a stroke and these are atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries and thickening of the artery walls), a ruptured Aneurysm (an aneurysm is a weak spot on the artery wall), or a blood clot which forms in the heart caused by arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) which then travels to the brain.

Risk Factors

High blood pressure can increase the risk of both heart disease and stroke and so can high triglyceride levels and high cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol). Medical conditions such as existing heart disease and diabetes can also increase the risk as well as a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and smoking and drinking. If you have already suffered a stroke then you are at risk of suffering another one.

Reducing the risk

The obvious things would be to stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

Diet plays a massive role in how healthy or unhealthy we are in general and should not be underestimated. Modern diets are not ideal for promoting good health as they tend to contain high levels of Omega 6, which is found in meat and dairy products, processed foods, confectionery and vegetable oils. There is nothing wrong with this in theory as Omega 6 fatty acids are just as important to our health as Omega 3 fatty acids.

Unfortunately, Omega 3 is not in such plentiful supply with the most abundant sources of it found only in cold water oily fish and fish oil supplements but nowadays we just don’t eat the same amount of fish that we used to in the past and at the same time we have increased our consumption of processed foods.

The Omega 3 Omega 6 imbalance

The implications on health of an imbalance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids becomes startlingly clear when we look at how these fatty acids behave in the body.

Amongst other things, too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 can increase inflammation in the body, promote weight gain, thicken the blood, increase triglyceride levels and the levels of bad cholesterol, increase blood pressure, increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, inflammatory conditions, cancer, and even depression and other mental health problems.

It’s no coincidence that previous studies have found that a diet rich in Omega 3 can reduce the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and depression as well as numerous other health problems.

Omega 3 helps to:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce Triglyceride levels
  • Reduce Cholesterol levels
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Thin the blood
  • Regulate irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression
  • Keep artery walls clear of debris
  • Improve memory and mental processing
  • Boost the immune system

It is now clear from countless studies that Omega 3 can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, that’s why we are told it’s so important to continue to eat fish, just not too much due to the toxins they can contain. However, many of the risk factors that apply to heart disease also apply to strokes. By reducing these risk factors then it goes without saying that you also reduce the risk of suffering from a stroke.

Risk of Hemorrhagic Stroke

There has been some concern that due to the blood thinning effect of Omega 3, bleeding times can be increased and that this could maybe increase the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), however, a study by Skerrett P J, and Hennekens C H published in 2003 entitled “Consumption of fish and fish oils and decreased risk of stroke” no such association was found.

“No association was observed between consumption of fish or fish oil and hemorrhagic stroke. These data support the hypothesis that consumption of fish several times per week reduces the risk of thrombotic stroke but does not increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke” the researchers concluded.

If you are concerned about your health for any reason, or if you have an existing health problem, it’s always advisable to speak to your doctor before making major changes to your diet or before taking fish oil supplements.

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