Many health discussions focus on coronary artery disease, commonly referred to as simply heart disease. And this is an important discussion because it can help many prevent a heart attack. Just as importantly, the vessels that feed the brain, known as cerebral vasculature, are just as vulnerable as the vessels that feed the heart. The health of the cerebral vessels is important to prevent a stroke.
Briefly and simply, the cerebral hemispheres receive their blood supply from the two internal carotid arteries coursing up the sides of the neck and the two vertebral arteries that travel up the back of the neck to eventually fuse and form the basilar artery. These circulatory streams combine and form what is called the circle of Willis, a ring of vessels from which all major cerebral vessels arise. Before combining, the vertebral and basilar artery also send off branches to feed the brainstem and the cerebellum. The caliber size of the vessel does change as the vessel goes from the outer cortex to deeper parts in the brain.
Strokes can be devastating and can impair quality of life as well as can result in end of life. What area of the brain is involved is based on what vessel has not been able to deliver the proper blood supply to its corresponding brain tissue, known as parenchyma. And each parenchymal region has an associated function, whether its motor, sensory, visual, perception, speech, or cognition. There can be some warning signs- known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) – but often times there are none.
Known risk factors for cerebral vessel disease include elevated blood pressure, elevated lipids, diabetes, smoking, alcohol, genetics, underlying disease such as autoimmunity or blood disorders, medications and drugs, stress, poor nutrition, poor sleep as well as sleep apnea, age, or a previous stroke or heart attack. The common pathway from many of these risk factors? Inflammation. Many of these risk factors result in inflammation of the vessels. Severe inflammation is often described as vasculitis. Often times, the small vessels are the first to suffer, though not always.
Some of the very same things we do to hopefully prevent a heart attack can also help hopefully prevent a stroke. Research supports a plant-based diet, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and avoidance of alcohol and tobacco. Research also supports regular meditation for improvement of brain function, plants to help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow with herbs such as boswellia, meadowsweet, and white willow bark, for example, and acupuncture of the head for the improvement of cerebral blood flow.
We at Center for Healing Neurology are here to help you help your brain.