Just recently an international research study looking at people from every continent in the world found ten modifiable risk factors that were associated with 90% of stroke cases. In other words, 90% of strokes are seen to be preventable with basic lifestyle changes. The study looked at men and women, young and old, in 32 countries across the globe. High blood pressure, lack of exercise, high lipids and diet were found to be the top four risk factors.
Let’s look at the top four risk factors from from both a modern and Ayurvedic perspective.
High blood pressure (hypertension) affects 47.9% of stroke cases
According to an international team of researchers led by the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario, “Hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor in all regions, and the key target in reducing the burden of stroke globally.” The study looked at men and women, young and old, in 32 countries across the globe.
More than three million Americans are diagnosed with high blood pressure every year, with blood pressure above 140/90. This chronic condition forces blood against the artery walls in a way that produces crippling pressure. According to the study, eliminating hypertension in patients would practically cut their stroke risk in half (48 per cent).
Modern medicine recommends medications along with a diet low in salt, more exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and reducing stress to combat hypertension
According to Ayurveda, the causes and symptoms of high blood pressure can vary from individual to individual. People with Pitta and Vata predominant constitutions (and Pitta and Vata imbalances) are more prone to hypertension than Kapha types.
Vata – Anxiety and mental stress and strain can aggravate Vata and put pressure on the nervous system. Other contributors include not getting enough sleep, having an irregular lifestyle, and watching TV or working on computers at night and constantly rushing from activity to activity
Pitta – Because one of the main seats of Pitta is in the heart, emotional stress can create imbalances in Pitta dosha. Eating spicy, salty, or sour food can also aggravate Pitta. When Pitta is out of balance, our emotions can also get out of balance. The resulting anger or hostility can lead to high blood pressure.
Kapha – Sluggish digestion, sedentary habits, and a diet filled with fats, sweets and processed foods can lead to being overweight, feeling depressed, and having high blood pressure.
The Ayurvedic approach to pacifying these imbalances also includes dietary and lifestyle recommendations, yoga exercises, meditation, specialized Panchakarma treatments and herbal supplements.
Lack of exercise affects 38.5% of stroke cases
The cardiovascular benefits of exercise include making blood less likely to clot, controlling weight, lowering blood pressure, and increasing levels of protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol.
According to Ayurveda, exercise also helps remove toxins and impurities (called ama) that have accumulated in the physiology. These deposits are a major factor in the breakdown of the body’s natural healing mechanism and cause blockages throughout the physiology. Exercise according to body type is a key recommendation for maintaining health.
Vata: Because Vata types have the quality of motion and changeability highly enlivened in their physiology, they need less exercise than other body types. Yoga, dance, aerobics, walking and light bicycling are good for them. A half hour of mild exercise is usually sufficient.
Pitta: Pitta types have good drive and endurance and can exercise in moderate quantity. Sports with a challenge and that bring a sense of accomplishment can be especially satisfying for Pittas. Water sports, because of their cooling influence, are highly recommended.
Kapha: Kapha types have a tendency toward heaviness and lethargy and need significant quantities of exercise. Kaphas have strong frames and joints and can easily withstands more vigorous and extended sports. Running, aerobics, rowing and other endurance sports are good Kapha types.
High Lipids (transport cholesterol) affects 26.8 % of stoke cases
A high lipid disorder means that you have high levels of either low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or elevated levels of fats called triglycerides.
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. High levels of “bad” cholesterol has been linked to may health problems, from heart disease (cardiovascular disease) and strokes to brain deposits that cause Alzheimer’s Disease.
Modern medicine recently switched its focus from total cholesterol levels to the ratio of “good” to “bad” cholesterol. 3.5 to 1 is the standard. A healthy ratio of good vs. bad cholesterol is associated with lower levels of the plaque in the brain and heart health.
Ayurveda agrees that cholesterol is only “bad” when it is out of balance. It is “good” when it is balanced, supporting and lubricating the body’s numerous circulatory channels, known as the shrotas.
The health of the circulatory channels, or shrotas, is essential to a well-functioning physiology. There are micro-shrotas, which carry nutrients to the cells and waste from the cells. There are larger shrotas, such as the arteries and veins, which carry blood to and from the heart. And there are delicate shrotas that lead to our brain. All of these shrotas must be flexible and elastic if we are to remain healthy. And cholesterol, when it is balanced, plays a critical role in lubricating and maintaining all these channels of circulation. With this perspective, one can see why high amounts of good cholesterol would be associated with longer life-span.
“Good” cholesterol becomes “bad” cholesterol when we have large amounts of ama in our system. Ama is the sticky waste product of poor digestion, absorption and metabolism. It accumulates as a toxin in the fat tissues. When it continues to accumulate over time, ama spreads into other parts of the body, including the important channels of circulation, nourishment and detoxification.
According to Ayurveda, the production of cholesterol does not necessarily need to be lessened, but instead needs to be balanced. Which comes down to maintaining a healthy and well-functioning power of digestion. In Ayurveda, digestion is king. When our digestion is balanced and healthy, the body will produce the right amount of cholesterol, in the right proportion to nourish the body.
To lower “bad” cholesterol Ayurveda recommends a two-pronged approach: Improve digestion and follow a Kapha-balancing diet to enhance fat metabolism.
Poor diet affects 23.2 % of stoke cases
According to the study, a better diet would cut the risk of a stroke by almost a fifth (19 per cent), the study says.
Health experts today recommend eating more fiber and legumes and to favor lean meat over red meat. In fact, earlier in the year the USDA came under fire for not advising Americans to reduce their red meat intake. Avoid fatty foods, and sugary foods to improve cardiovascular health.
Ayurveda takes into account the doshic balance of an individual before recommending a specific diet. For example, not everyone who is overweight has a Kapha imbalance. It could be that an underlying Vata imbalance is actually at the root of imbalances in the other doshas. If you are dealing with hypertension it would be best to find an Ayurveda expert who can accurately pinpoint the specific imbalances in your physiology.
At The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, we consider Ayurveda to be an ideal complementary approach to good health. Check with your physician while you are integrating natural, preventive modalities.
For more information on Ayurvedic programs for hypertension or consultations with an Ayurvedic expert, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website: