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The Sunflower Seed and Linoleic Acid:

By Michael Kasten, CPT

It’s the simple sunflower seed that now appears to be the key to reducing hypertension and may even help to reduce stroke. A new research study may hold the important information to those who want to reduce the risk of stroke, the nation’s third leading killer.

This year alone, 600,000 Americans will have a stroke and 160,000 of them will die. Many strokes are the consequence of atherosclerotic plaques that occur in one or more of the arteries that feed the brain oxygenated blood. The plaque activates a mechanism that triggers clotting of the blood. A clot then develops and blocks the artery. This leads to acute loss of brain function in the localized area.

Here are some uncontrollable risk factors associated with stroke: The chances of having a stroke go up with age. Two-thirds of all strokes happen to people over age 65. Stroke risk doubles with each decade past age 55. Males have a slightly higher stroke risk than females. But, because women in the United States live longer than men, more stroke survivors over age 65 are women. African-Americans have a higher stroke risk than most other racial groups. Risk is higher for people with a family history of stroke or TIA. People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk. This may be due to circulation problems that diabetes can cause. In addition, brain damage may be more severe and extensive if blood sugar is high when a stroke happens. Treating diabetes may delay the onset of complications that increase stroke risk. However, even if diabetics are on medication and have blood sugar under control, they may still have an increased stroke risk simply because they have diabetes.

Controllable risk factors are things that we can change to reduce our chances of having a stroke. They are:  Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk four to six times. It is the single most important controllable stroke risk factor. High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because people can have it and not realize it, since it often has no symptoms. Hypertension is a common condition, affecting approximately 50 million Americans, or one-third of the adult population. Blood pressure is high if it is consistently more than 140/90. Between 40 and 90 percent of all stroke patients had high blood pressure before their stroke. Hypertension puts stress on blood vessel walls and can lead to strokes from blood clots or hemorrhage. Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation increases stroke risk up to six times. About 15 percent of all people who have a stroke have a heart disease called atrial fibrillation, or AF, which affects more than 1 million Americans. AF is caused when the atria (the two upper chambers of the heart) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heartbeat. AF raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke. Normally, all four chambers of the heart beat in the same rhythm somewhere between 60 and 100 times every minute. In someone who has AF, the left atrium may beat as many as 400 times a minute. If left untreated, AF can increase stroke risk four to six times. Long-term untreated AF can also weaken the heart, leading to potential heart failure. The prevalence of AF increases with age. AF is found most often in people over age 65 and in people who have heart disease or thyroid disorders. Among people age 50 to 59, AF is linked to 6.7 percent of all strokes. By ages 80-89, AF is responsible for 36.2 percent of all strokes.

High cholesterol can directly and indirectly increase stroke risk by clogging blood vessels and putting people at greater risk of coronary heart disease, another important stroke risk factor. A cholesterol level of more than 200 is considered “high.” Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that our bodies make on their own, but we also get it from fat in the foods we eat. Certain foods (such as egg yolks, liver or foods fried in animal fat or tropical oils) contain cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol in the blood stream can lead to the buildup of plaque on the inside of arteries, which can clog arteries and cause heart or brain attack.

Now, researchers suggest that linoleic acid, a doubly unsaturated fatty acid, found in sunflower seeds and other seed sources, significantly improved the vasodilatory responses in the subjects that were in the study. The researchers also found that linoleic acid seems to significantly decrease the systolic blood pressure of the subjects. Linoleic acid also seems to increase the cognitive responses that hypertension often impedes. Linoleic acid has also been able to reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood.

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that is polyunsaturated. It is an omega fatty acid that found in special oils such as linseed oil, soybeans and flax-seed. You can eat the beans or purchase the supplement at any health food store. If you are considering taking linoleic acid, please speak with your doctor or health care provider before taking this supplement. Medications you are taking or your current medical condition may warrant you taking the supplement.

For more information on stroke check out the  National Stroke Association at http://www.stroke.org, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/, and The American Stroke Association at http://www.strokeassociation.org.

 

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