New Links To Stroke Discovered

Stroke affects men and women around the world in a devastating manner. Although some strokes are more severe than others, they almost always lead to a change in the patient’s lifestyle. Recently, two articles have found interesting links to stroke, what may cause it and easy ways to attempt to prevent it.

When many adults were children, a frequent refrain they may have heard was “go outside and play”. Now, however, it seems this refrain is rarely used which has led to an increase in childhood obesity over the past several decades. Adults are often the ones setting such an example by lying on the couch watching random television programs, rarely going outside or exercising. In fact, the obesity of the U.S. population has increased dramatically since the 1970s. While only 47% of the population was considered obese in the 1970s, this number jumped to 56% in the 1990s and to 65% in 2000.

Is it possible that this type of stagnant, indoor-based behavior has other consequences? According to two studies on stroke and its predictive factors, the answer is most probably yes. In a July 17 issue of Stroke, Dr. Stefan Pilz and associates published data from approximately 3,300 patients who had been referred for coronary angiography. Vitamin D levels were measured in these patients and their health was then monitored for eight years. Pilz believes this study showed low levels of vitamin D to be an independent predictor of fatal stroke with low levels equaling an increased risk of stroke. If this is true, one simple way to curtail stroke could be easy: get outside.

The Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made by the body upon exposure to the sun. If, however, one stays indoors too much, it could be difficult for the body to generate the necessary amount of this vitamin. This is not to say people should spend inordinate amounts of time outdoors. Too much time in the sun, especially without sunscreen, could lead to problems of its own, such as skin cancer. According to Pilz, vitamin D supplementation in stroke patients has reduced many problems related to bone strength and could offer a protective measure against stroke. Unfortunately, it is now estimated that as much as 50% of those in the U.S. and Europe could be deficient in vitamin D.

A second study, authored by Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen and published in the same issue of Stroke, explored the possible link between stroke and sleep. Over 93,000 women were enrolled in a study to assess if the duration of their sleep could be correlated to their risk of stroke. These women were followed for almost eight years and the results were interesting, if not disturbing. Using seven hours of sleep per night as a baseline, women who slept six, eight and nine hours were tracked.

Women who slept six hours suffered 14% more strokes than those who slept seven hours each night. The answer, however, is not to sleep more. Women who slept eight hours experienced 24% more incidence of stroke. While these numbers may not sound too frightening, the true jump occurred in women who slept nine hours each night. This group of women increased their stroke risk by 70%. Unfortunately for those considering simply setting the alarm clock, Chen stated that he did not believe the solution of artificially reducing ones sleep duration to lower the risk of stroke could be supported by their data. On the other hand, it often seems the more active an individual is, the more optimal their sleep conditions become. If this is true, it may be possible for those sleeping too long at night to naturally change their sleep patterns by changing what they do during the day.

Costs to the Nation

Stroke has become a serious problem in the U.S. In 2007, strokes cost the U.S. $62.7 billion. The American Heart Association has calculated that every 45 seconds someone has a stroke and every three to four minutes someone dies. In fact, stroke accounted for one in every 16 deaths in 2004 making it the third leading cause of death. Perhaps surprisingly, women made up 61% of the 5.7 million stroke victims in 2004. While only 58,700 men died as a result, almost twice as many women, or 91,400, did. While Caucasians have one of the lowest percentages of strokes at 2.5%, native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders have the highest at 8.1%.

With more people sitting indoors, the numbers of people affected by disease and infirmities are bound to increase. The increased sedentary lifestyle of today, along with other factors, seems to have led to an increase in obesity, and it seems it will lead to an increase in stroke risk. The solution of simply getting outside and exercising seems so simple, and yet many don’t apply it. In 2005, it was found that Japanese men reduced their risk of stroke by 29% and women reduced it 20% merely by walking and participating in some kind of sport. With so much expense, both financially and in terms of human suffering being expended, putting effort into preventing such a disease seems only logical.

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