Cardiovascular events being on the rise among young Indians is a serious matter of concern. The prevailing incidences of stroke & cardiovascular events, are quite evident that epidemic like situation is bound to prevail in India, as more and more young Indians (20-40 years of age) are under its radar. When almost 80% of such incidences are avoidable or preventable, what is the prime reason that is deteriorating the health of the youngsters?

Factors related to stress include hypertension, smoking, binging on alcohol and lack of physical activity, lifestyle related habits like binging on junk food and poor diet intake that leads to high cholesterol are marked as prime reasons for arterial dysfunction leading to heart attacks and strokes. Cumulatively all these factors expose the arteries to get clogged leading to interruption in the normal flow of blood in the body. This in turn results in the hardening of the arteries thereby affecting the complete arterial system.

Myocardial infarction with a mortality rate of 2 lives per minute, WHO estimates that over 40 % of the deaths, will be attributed to cardiovascular events by 2020. The younger generation also needs to adopt certain lifestyle changes to prevent stroke and cardiovascular diseases from becoming an epidemic.

Role of a healthy diet in prevention of stroke

1. Hypertension – More than 60% of all the cases of strokes and heart attacks are attributed to high blood pressure. By preventing or controlling hypertension alone, the possibilities to prevent a stroke or heart attack increases by 10 folds.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) – The diet plan emphasizes on lowering the blood pressure by getting right amount of nutrients through portion size food. Basically the diet encourages reducing sodium intake and consuming other required nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium, helpful in lowering the blood pressure. Following this diet on a regular basis not only reduces hypertension thereby reducing risk of stroke but other related ailments like osteoporosis, cardiac ailments, and even cancer can be prevented.

The effectiveness of the diet has already been published in many journals. Several studies also show that the systolic blood pressure drops from 160 mm Hg to 140 mm Hg within 3 weeks after following the diet and helps in maintaining the same throughout lifetime. The following items need to be incorporated in the diet – Flax seeds, Sunflower seeds, Watermelon, Beetroot, Spinach, Whole grains (brown rice / whole wheat flour / Oats)

2. High Cholesterol levels – For our body to function healthy, certain amount of cholesterol is required, but when it exceeds the limits, it leads to plaque formation resulting in clogged arteries that hinders blood flow affecting heart, brain and all other vital organs.

As coronary arteries narrow, it’s harder for blood to flow and if an area of plaque breaks, it can result in a blood clot, which can block blood flow altogether. This puts you at great risk of having a heart attack. Blood flow has to be restored fast, or there’s a risk of permanent heart damage or death.

When plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your brain, your brain is deprived of oxygen. Brain cells quickly become damaged and start to die causing stroke. A stroke can cause brain damage, disability, or death.

With elevated levels of bad cholesterol, risk of development of plaque in the walls of the arteries increase. This makes them prone to losing the integrity of their lining leading to formation of clots, which in turn can prevent blood flow. A healthy diet corresponds to your Mass Body Index (should be 25 or less), and also to the fact of maintaining a healthy metabolism. Obesity, which likely leads to heath complications such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can have a devastating effect on your heart and blood vessels. Close monitoring of diet is necessary to maintain the right levels of good and bad cholesterols.

TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) – this approach consists of three parts – Diet, exercise, and weight management. This helps in changing the habits for a long run and is the most balanced diets. The diet approach aims to lower the LDL (bad Cholesterol) levels and raises the levels of HDL(good cholesterol). People suffering from high cholesterol should immediately change their eating habits and switch to this diet.

  • Oats and oat bran- 3gms of oats in your diet can reduce total cholesterol by 23 percent.
  • Avocados – Avocados are low-carb plant food and rich in Vitamin K, C, B5, B6, E, potassium and folate, along with a small quantity of magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin A, B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin) and B3 (Niacin), protein.
  • Beans – Rajma, Chana and Kabuli chana are rich in dietary fibre which help in reducing cholesterol level
  • Nuts – Walnut, Almonds and Cashews helps in lowering the cholesterol by 5.4 percent and LDL cholesterol by 9.3 percent.
  • Barley and other grains
  • Vegetables – Eggplant, Tomatoes, Ginger, Garlic, Broccoli and other vegetables
  • Fruits – Fruits such as pear, apples, oranges, berries, grapefruit and pomegranate have the necessary nutrients and components that aid in reducing the cholesterol level in the blood
  • Green Tea – Green Tea is the natural medicine to aid digestion and is the most common thing that can be found in almost every household.

3. Diabetes – Patients with diabetes and hypertension are more likely to suffer from a heart attack/stroke. Diabetes can damage blood vessels as well as your nerves leading to a high risk of transient ischemic attacks. By controlling blood glucose level, your blood lipids, and by saying no to smoking you can considerably reduce the risk of a stroke.

Vegan Diet – The potential benefit of a vegan diet is for type 2 diabetes affected people. Switching to a vegan diet could help reverse diabetes. The eating plan consists mainly of non starchy vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds and nuts. Millions of people battling this killer disease can improve their blood sugar levels by just eradicating meat from their diet. Studies say vegan diet lowered HbA1c by an average of 0.4 percentage points, and up to 0.7 points. Plant-based diet also improves blood sugar, body weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol all at the same time which no drug can do. The following items – Cinnamon, Fenugreek Seeds, Turmeric Tea, Cumin, Garlic, Cardamom, Fennel seeds, Ginger, Amla, Spinach, Lauki, Fibre rich food, Almonds, bitter gourd.

Apart from diet the other things to keep in mind includes –

– Regular exercise – physical inactivity also leads to plaque build-up, hence atleast half an hour of daily activity is mandatory to avoid any risk of stroke or other ailments related to the arterial system.

– Smoking cessation – it is the smoke and not the nicotine content that is responsible for stroke. Avoid smoking as it increases the risk of stroke by three times. When you smoke, you inhale tobacco smoke, which contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. These chemicals are transferred from your lungs into your bloodstream, changing and damaging cells all around your body.

– Limit alcohol consumption – Alcohol increases the risk of ischemic (lack of blood flow to the brain due to a block in the artery) and hemorrhagic (bleed into the brain tissue) stroke. Alcohol consumption elevates blood pressure. This in-turn causes damage to the inner wall of the artery. It is also known to reduce blood flow to the brain by decreasing the caliber of the brain arteries through a direct effect on the muscles of the arteries. Excess alcohol affects the heart muscles resulting in impaired function and altered rhythm. This can result in a clot developing in the heart which can then disintegrate and migrate to the arteries in the brain and obstruct the blood flow to the brain. The clotting mechanisms can be altered/ impaired and therefore can make one prone to bleeding into the brain tissue.

About the Author

Dr. Chandrashekhar
Senior consultant-Cardiology,
Saroj Super specialty Hospital, New Delhi