According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation every 7 minutes someone dies from heart disease or stroke. Heart disease and stroke are two of the top three causes of death in North America according to the latest statistics report from 2008. With heart disease, including heart attack, and stroke costing the economy over $20 billion each year, it is time to look at options that can help to prevent heart disease and reduce stroke damage.
The damage that results from stroke can be life-altering and currently there is only one drug that has been approved for ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is where a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, often resulting in speech, memory and motor impairments. The drug that is currently approved for treatment of an ischemic stroke is tissue plasminogen activator. tPA is injected into the person having a stroke with the purpose of dissolving the clot and restoring normal blood flow to the brain. It may possibly help to reduce stroke damage by lessening the speech, memory and motor impairments that can result from stroke – if it is given to the patient quick enough
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Researchers have recently developed a new molecule from curcumin which is a component in turmeric which happens to be the main spice in curry. The researchers found that this new molecule affects mechanisms that help to protect and regenerate brain cells after stroke, thereby reducing stroke damage. The new hybrid-curcumin compound is called CNB-001 and works differently than tPA in that it doesn’t dissolve the clot, but rather repairs stroke damage at the molecular level. In lab testing, CNB-001 reduced motor-related stroke damage and was effective when given to the animal subject for up to an hour after stroke – this correlates to about three hours in humans. This is currently the timeframe in which the approved tPA needs to be administered in order to decrease stroke damage. The new hybrid compound may provide an alternative to tPA if the same results can be found in further human testing.
The benefits of curcumin are not new, the use of curcumin in the treatment of brain injury and disease has been studied in the past. However, the use of curcumin in emergency stroke situations has disadvantages including: it is not well absorbed in the body, it does not reach its’ target (the brain) in high concentrations, it gets depleted very quickly and it cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier. These disadvantages make the use of curcumin in acute stroke situations less than ideal. However, the new hybrid compound, CNB-001, looks to be a better choice for emergency stroke situations because it can cross the blood-brain barrier, it is quickly distributed in the brain and it moderates many brain activities that are involved in neuronal survival. All of the advantages of CNB-001 make it a better choice over curcumin because it will lead to decreased stroke damage.
Additionally, the use of turmeric for cardiovascular health has also shown that it may be beneficial. Animal studies have shown that turmeric decreases cholesterol levels and stops the oxidization of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). This is important because oxidized LDL sticks to the walls of blood vessels and contributes to plaque buildup in the blood vessels. Additionally, turmeric may also prevent platelet buildup along the walls of injured blood vessels which will decrease the chance of a clot forming, which leads to a decreased risk of stroke. It is important to remember that while the use of turmeric to support cardiovascular health looks promising, further research using human trials, is necessary to see if the same mechanisms that are found in animal subjects are also seen in humans.
Even though researchers are developing new drugs to treat heart disease and stroke, it is important to take preventative steps to avoid these problems. Adding heart healthy foods, including a variety of herbs and spices, to your diet is a proactive and simple step that you can take to protect yourself from heart attack and stroke. Some heart healthy foods include: fruits and vegetables and whole grain products. Not only should you increase the amount of heart healthy foods that you eat, you should limit unhealthy food options including saturated, trans-fat and cholesterol as well as sodium. Additionally, even when eating heart healthy foods it is important to monitor your portion sizes in an effort to avoid overeating. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has many recipes on their website that incorporate heart healthy foods that will help to protect against heart attack and stroke.