Powerful Stroke Prevention From Amazing Vitamin
Cardiovascular disease including stroke is the leading cause of death among men. But research shows that a simple B vitamin may hold the power to protect you. In today’s article I’m going to let you in on this powerful secret. Once you know the right and wrong ways to eat enough of this essential nutrient, you’ll be on the fast track to cardiovascular health.
When you think ‘folic acid’, you probably think ‘pregnant women’. But this B vitamin - called vitamin B9 - is vital to men’s health, too. While best known for its place in prenatal care, helping to prevent neural tube and other defects, vitamin B9 is also a crucial ingredient in the health of all humans, old and young.
Studies indicate that supplementing with vitamin B9 benefits cardiovascular health. It also helps to keep the brain strong and healthy throughout life. But as beneficial as supplements may be, foods that naturally contain vitamin B9 are an even better bet. I’ll explain why, and I’ll tell you what to eat to optimize your heart and brain health.
Reducing Stroke Risk with Vitamin B9
We’ve all heard of strokes. They’re one of the top killers in the United States. Still, most people don’t know what it actually means to have one. A stroke is a “brain attack,” similar to a heart attack. It occurs when oxygen to a particular part of the brain is cut off. Because brain cells need oxygen to function, they soon begin to die. When they do, important bodily functions such as memory and muscle control also get lost.
A stroke happens roughly every 40 seconds in the U.S., and each year 800,000 people experience stroke. Some of these are new, and some are a recurrence of previous episodes. It is the leading cause of adult disability in our nation. Hemorrhagic strokes mean a blood vessel has burst or is leaking blood. This usually results in death. Ischemic strokes mean a blockage from a blood clot. These are also serious, but less lethal.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke, and vitamin B9 can help solve the problem. To test this, researchers followed 20,000 participants in a survey tracking the effect of taking vitamin B9 along with other changes. Half the participants also took folate. This half showed a 21 percent decreased risk of stroke after 4.5 years. Even better news is this: the researchers say that even among people without high blood pressure, regular intake of adequate of vitamin B9 will reduce the risk of stroke.
Increasing Stroke Protection through Diet
When it comes to vitamin B9, not all forms are created equal. Now is a good time to distinguish between folic acid and folate. The difference is small, and confusing enough that even some medical experts don’t understand it. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. Folic acid is a specific synthetic compound that is used in supplements and as a food additive. Although folic acid is often considered to be a variant of vitamin B9, that’s not exactly right. The body has to convert it before it is usable. In other words, folic acid can turn into vitamin B9 (folate) under the right circumstances in the body.
Although folic acid is effective for most people, many adults cannot transform it into a bioactive form. That means it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier and perform stroke-reducing services. For this reason, it is important to either get folate from natural foods, or take a supplement made of natural folate rather than harder-to-convert folic acid. The best way to up folate is to eat lots of leafy green vegetables, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, and beans and legumes. Some fruits are also excellent sources, including oranges.
Folate performs another valuable stroke-reducing service as well. It keeps homocysteine levels in check. Because homocysteine can lead to clots in the arteries, taking folate may indirectly prevent heart attack and stroke. But again, only the active form, folate, does this. So it’s best to rely on natural food sources and if using supplements to look for those containing folate instead of folic acid. For most men folic acid will be converted to folate, but not for all men.
Encouraging Total Brain Health with Folate
Folate may also support all-around brain health in addition to protecting against strokes. Homocysteine can also lead to brain shrinkage, which is linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. Keeping levels steady with folate can protect your lifelong mental health.
In a 2010 study, researchers wanted to discover whether high doses of folic acid could slow brain shrinkage and help stave off Alzheimer’s disease. The study’s participants were given high levels of B vitamins. They received 800 micrograms of vitamin B9. They were also given vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. After 2 years, the participants showed less brain shrinkage than the participants taking the placebo.
Other studies have showed similar results. Some indicate that B vitamins could reduce brain shrinkage by as much as seven times in regions of the brain most heavily affected by Alzheimer’s. In this study the participants were given synthetic folic acid rather than folate. A diet rich in bioavailable folate may increase the beneficial results even more.
Cultivating a Stroke-Resistant Lifestyle
Folate is not the only solution to limiting chance of stroke. Men who want to protect themselves over the long haul can take several precautionary measures:
- Exercise frequently. Frequent exercise normalizes blood pressure. It regulates insulin in the bloodstream and prevents spiking (associated with heart disease and diabetes as well as stroke). It also keeps people in shape mentally and physically.
- Reduce stress. One of the best ways to do this is to exercise frequently. It is also possible to manage stress by getting enough sleep, meditating and spending time with friends and family. It also helps to strike a good work-life balance, and enjoying favorite hobbies and pastimes.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can cause narrowing and thickening of blood vessel walls. It also weakens blood vessels and makes blood thicker and likelier to clot. Moreover, it lowers “good” cholesterol, and raises triglyceride levels in the blood.
- Be wary of statins. These drugs are usually prescribed to lower cholesterol. Unfortunately, they may actually make the chance of a second attack more likely.
- Get enough sun. This doesn’t mean tanning frequently. Rather, spend time outside. Sunlight is necessary to the body’s creation of vitamin D. Although vitamin D supplements exist, they may not be as available to the body as the naturally occurring substance. Adequate levels of vitamin D literally double the body’s chances of staving off stroke, so this is not a step to skip.
No one can prevent a stroke by sheer willpower alone. The earlier you change your habits and begin to cultivate a stroke-reducing lifestyle, the better your chances of having a long and healthy life.
Vitamin B9 has powerful benefits for cardiovascular health. Research shows that adequate levels of the nutrient can reduce heart disease and strokes. Although the common, synthetic folic acid used to fortify foods may be effective for most men, it doesn’t work for all men. So the best insurance is to eat foods with the natural form of vitamin B9, called folate. And if you use supplemental vitamin B9, look for products containing folate instead of folic acid to be on the safe side.
Eat enough folate (vitamin B9) and follow the stroke-prevention guidelines in this article, and you’ll be on track to stay healthy for life.