Stroke continues to be one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. And even if a person survives a stroke, they may face permanent disability from a stroke. In turn, having a stroke could greatly impact a person’s quality of life. This is why it’s so important to keep learning more about how this disease can be prevented. A recent study shows that taking a fish oil supplement each day may help lower risk of stroke.
What is stroke?
Stroke is a form of vascular disease that affects the arteries to and within the brain. A stroke occurs when these vessels become blocked by a clot or bursts. A stroke caused by a blockage is called an ischemic stroke. On the other hand, a stroke called by a ruptured vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke.
Since these arteries normally carry oxygen and blood to the brain, this blockage can be deadly. If the brain, or the control center of your body, doesn’t receive oxygen or nutrients, then brain cells can die. This in turn can wreak havoc all over your body.
Depending on what area of the brain the stroke occurs, different complications can occur. A right brain stroke can cause paralysis on the left side of the body, vision problems, and memory loss. On the other hand, a stroke on the left side of the brain can cause paralysis on the right side of the body, speech problems, and memory loss.
Either way, these complications can greatly affect quality of life. However, by taking care of your heart health, you can lower your risk of stroke.
What is fish oil?
Fish oil is a supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Two of the primary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid. These fatty acids are marine-based, hence fish oil supplements.
The omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are well-known for their role in heart health. Study results show that fish oil works well as a supportive treatment, along with statins, to help lower heart disease risk. The average fish oil supplement provides about 1000 milligram of fish oils, containing about 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA or more.
An example of a high quality fish oil supplement is the formula developed by Vita Sciences. This fish oil by Vita Sciences contains 400mg of EPA and 300mg of DHA in a 1000 milligram fish oil supplement.
Stroke and fish oil research
A recent study analyzed data from about 55,000 people enrolled in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health study. They completed dietary surveys and had baseline adipose tissue analysis completed. Then, the individuals had follow-up assessments after 13.5 years to check for ischemic stroke status events, if any.
Study results show that those with higher adipose tissue content of EPA showed a lower risk of total ischemic stroke. Also, lower rates of large artery atherosclerosis were seen with higher intakes of total marine n-3 PUFA, EPA, and DHA.
Other ways to reduce stroke risk
Besides taking a fish oil supplement each day, here are some other ways you can lower your stroke risk.
- Quit smoking if you already do. This is because smoking can constrict blood vessels. This, in turn, can raise blood pressure and increase risk of stroke.
- Maintain heart health by keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. You can do this by eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Also, be sure to move more on a regular basis to keep your heart muscle strong and maintain a healthy weight.
- Keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. This is because those with diabetes are at higher risk for heart health issues than those without diabetes.
- Visit your doctor regularly. By having your labs done at least yearly (or more often if you have a chronic disease risk), you can track your progress. Early detection of heart health issues can help lower your risk of stroke.
-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD
American Stroke Association (accessed January 23, 2019) “About Stroke.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed November 28, 2017) “Stroke.” https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/index.htm
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (accessed January 23, 2019) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/
Hughes, S. (January 17, 2019) “Fish Oil, Particularly EPA, Linked to Reduced Ischemic Stroke.” https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/907950
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (last updated November 21, 2018) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (last updated October 29, 2018) “Reduce Your Risk of Stroke.”