Why Stroke Prevention Isn’t Just for Older Adults

The risk is rising for a younger generation

Man holding chest

When actor Luke Perry died following a massive stroke in early March 2019, the most common reaction from his fanbase, aside from sadness, was shock. The former teen heartthrob was only 52. 

But his case is hardly uncommon. A 2017 report from the American Academy of Neurology found that 15 percent of all strokes effect adults of all ages, and even adolescents. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strokes are a leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood clot disrupts blood flow to the brain or a blood vessel bursts, resulting in potential brain damage or death. Some strokes can go unnoticed but can cause future damage. 

While researchers don’t definitively know why stroke incidence is increasing in younger patients, there are a few possibilities, the biggest of which is the early onset of cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension and obesity. 
Limit Your Risk 
While the occurrence of stroke is a scary thing, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk. Researchers from the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan, found that drinking green tea and coffee could lower stroke risk by up to 20 percent and potentially lower all cardiovascular disease risk by up to 26 percent. 

According to the study, you have to drink four to five cups of green tea or at least one cup of coffee a day. The research found that green tea's catechins act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent for your vascular system, which reduces strain on the cardiovascular system and your risk of stroke. With coffee, they observed that it works by lowering the risk of diabetes, which puts you at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. "In our study, [people with a] higher coffee consumption had a lower prevalence of diabetes," says study author Yoshihiro Kokubo, MD, PhD, and head of Cardiovascular Epidemiology, Preventive Medicine, and Epidemiologic Informatics at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center.  
Can't decide which to drink? It’s up to you! "Among higher green tea consumption groups, the risk reduction of stroke was observed to be similar [to] any coffee consumption category," Dr. Kokubo says. "Part of the effect of drinking more green tea and coffee is simply that it could replace calorie-rich juices and sodas high in sugars, which contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors."  

Here are some additional actions you can take to keep your heart healthy and prevent a stroke:

  • Aim for 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week, like walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling. 
  • Avoid eating too much saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels in your blood. Reach for healthy sources of fat, like nuts or olive oil. 
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Skip empty calories from snack foods or sugary drinks. 
  • Manage your blood pressure by limiting your salt and alcohol intake. Take blood pressure medications as prescribed.
  • Reduce your blood sugar by eating right and exercising. Take diabetes medications as prescribed.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking hurts your arteries and makes it harder to be active. You’ll start to feel the benefits almost immediately.