| What is a stroke?|
Stroke refers to an event in which the brain is deprived of oxygen, causing brain cells to die. Strokes used to be thought of as a disease of the elderly but nowadays younger people, as early as in their forties, are having strokes. Strokes are most common in people with hypertension. But even without high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels, can lead to stroke.
Cerebrovascular disease describes the condition when atherosclerosis affects the blood vessels in the brain, so that cholesterol deposits harden the arteries. The hardened arteries are prone to rupture with rises in blood pressure from mental stress or physical exertion. The coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, have much thicker walls and therefore tend to get clogged with atherosclerosis rather than rupture. Arteries in the brain are more fragile and rupture much easier.
When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue, this is called a cerebral hemorrhage. Bleeding into the brain deprives cells of blood and oxygen, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke.
In some cases, blood vessels in the brain get clogged by cholesterol, rather than rupturing. An ischemic stroke is another type of stroke in which an artery in the brain is blocked by a clot or cholesterol deposit. The part of the brain that the blocked artery supplies blood to then becomes deprived of oxygen, and the cells die.
Both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes kill brain cells and can have devastating outcomes. In many cases, a stroke results in partial or complete loss of voluntary movements, sensation, speech, swallowing, vision, balance or even consciousness. A serious stroke can be fatal.
How does modern medicine treat strokes?
Modern medicine offers limited treatment options during the recovery phase after a stroke. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation have limited effectiveness and often do not result in full recovery. The prevailing belief in modern medicine is that once brain cells die, they do not regenerate. However, the truth is that brain cells can regenerate when their genes perceive a need to stimulate growth of new cells. Oftentimes stroke patients are led to believe that they will not fully recover. Once patients lose hope of recovery, their genes have no motivation to generate new cells.
The best approach to deal with stroke is to use preventative measures. We all accept that in order to prevent strokes, we should avoid high-fat, high cholesterol foods, eat more fruits and vegetables, and exercise regularly. Other measures by modern medicine may include taking aspirin or medications for high blood pressure. However, taking medications to manage the high blood pressure within tolerable limits alone is not enough to prevent stroke. It is necessary to repair hardened arteries and make them smooth and flexible again, so that they don’t narrow down and impair blood flow. A healthy lifestyle is absolutely necessary in the prevention of strokes, if we really want a lasting solution to preventing stroke.
Aspirin is often prescribed for people who are at higher risk of strokes and heart attacks, as a prevention strategy. But there are problems associated with aspirin. First, let’s take a look at the mechanism of how aspirin works.
When a blood vessel is injured, platelets in the blood stick to each other to form a clot and seal the wound, preventing it from bleeding excessively. In atherosclerosis, blood vessels get deposits of cholesterol, or plaques, on their walls. These plaques can rupture, and the platelets mistakenly believe that the actual artery wall is injured. The platelets aggregate around the ruptured cholesterol plaque and form a clot, which can then block the artery. Aspirin is an anti-platelet agent that inhibits platelets from forming clots so that arteries do not get blocked. The end result is that aspirin can help prevent ischemic stroke caused by clogged arteries. In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke however, aspirin makes the situation worse by inhibiting platelets from sealing off the ruptured blood vessel. Therefore, aspirin is helpful for ischemic stroke, but can do more damage in a hemorrhagic stroke. Prolonged use of aspirin is also not desirable, as the platelet’s function would be weakened over time resulting the platelet’s compromised ability to seal the wound in the event of ruptured arteries.
How can we beat cerebrovascular disease and strokes?
First and foremost, stroke patients must change their lifestyle. Brain cells can regenerate when the genes are given strong enough motivation to grow. There is a special hormone called nerve growth factor (NGF), which is produced when NGF genes are activated. NGF stimulates the growth of sensory nerves, and will also stimulate brain cells to regenerate if we maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How can we encourage the production of NGF? Proper diet and physical exercise are fundamental. But the most effective ingredients in stimulating NGF production are love and hope, especially for stroke patients. When patients are told that full recovery is not possible by any means, their despair and hopelessness lead them to give up. Many stroke patients become helpless and don’t even attempt to make any recovery.
Years ago, a man in his mid-50’s became totally paralyzed and bed-ridden from a stroke. He did not know anything about our NEWSTART program at the time, and resigned himself to live out the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. He became severely depressed and thought suicide was the only way to free himself from his misery. He wanted to jump off his balcony to end his life, but couldn’t even make his way to the balcony to go through with it.
One day he realized that he was able to move his eyebrows, something he hadn’t been able to do before. If he had completely given up, he wouldn’t have cared too much about this discovery. But he was encouraged and hopeful that he might eventually move other parts of his body. He asked a family member to fasten rubber tubing from his arm to the wall, and began trying to exercise his arm. He continued the exercise day after day, month after month. Pulling the rubber tubing became easier. He repeated a similar exercise with his legs. Eventually he started taking a few steps on his own. In time he was actually able to attend the NEWSTART workshop by himself. He continued his remarkable recovery until he was able to walk and jog again.
Treatments such as physiotherapy and other rehabilitation can help, but only if the person maintains hope and faith. The healing power that helped this man was not from the medical treatment he received. His faith, hope, the loving support from his family, and a change in his lifestyle provided the power to overcome the odds of a debilitating stroke.