Surviving a stroke is only half the battle. The real challenge begins for many stroke victims when they return home from the hospital. Many of them face debilitating and even permanent damage, and some even need to relearn basic activities like walking, talking and eating.
Now, two recent studies give some hope to a seemingly hopeless situation.
The first comes in the form of a simple easy-to-find everyday vitamin–one many people start their day with, whether they know it or not.
Vitamin B3–better known as niacin, a nutrient that can be found in abundance in coffee–helps rats that have suffered ischemic strokes to grow blood vessels and new nerve cells in their brains, according to a study presented at the recent International Stroke Conference.
That’s all well and good for the rats, but will it work on humans? That’s what the research team at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit wants to figure out–which is why they’re now testing to see if humans can get those same benefits after suffering an ischemic stroke. (That’s the most common type of stroke, which happens when blood can’t make it to the brain.)
But we already know that niacin has some terrific benefits for the arteries, as I’ve mentioned before. (Read "Common vitamin tops meds.") What’s more, it’s easy to get it from your diet by eating more oatmeal, peanuts, mushrooms and fish.
And, as I mentioned, you can even get it from your morning brew. Espresso is overflowing with niacin, containing about 30 times what you’ll find in a serving of tuna or mushrooms. Regular brewed coffee is also an excellent source of niacin, but it doesn’t contain nearly as much as espresso.
Niacin is also inexpensive and widely available in supplement form.
The researchers say this nutrient appears to rewire the brain…which is exactly what another group of scientists working with stroke patients say about a very different treatment. Their study looks at how stroke victims benefit from something many of us do in the shower every day: singing.
It’s long been known that singing and speaking use different parts of the brain, which is why many stutterers can often belt out a tune without a single pause.
And in recent years, stroke patients who’ve lost the ability to talk have been learning to sing instead. It’s called "melodic intonation therapy," and researchers say that the singing appears to rewire the brain–putting regions to use that had not been used before the stroke.
Many patients who’ve lost all ability to speak can begin communicating again after just one therapy session.
Stroke is often a traumatic life-changing event that robs people of their independence along with many of their abilities. It can be a long way back–but there is a road that can take you there.
Edward Martin is a health journalist who writes about today's most pressing health issues. He chronicles the most cutting-edge alternative methods for beating everything from diabetes to cancer and reports on the latest FDA foul-ups and Big Pharma conspiracies.