Your Fat and Cholesterol Levels Impact Your Stroke Risk

A number of health factors contribute to the development of a stroke. Some causes of stroke can be detected by routine health screening and a few of the causes of stroke are manageable through lifestyle adjustments and medication. Your blood cholesterol and fat levels are easily measurable and can also be improved by diet modification and medicine to help prevent a stroke.

What is High Cholesterol?

Your cholesterol and fat levels can be analyzed with a relatively simple blood test.

There are a few components of fat that are typically measured. Triglyceride levels, low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein levels (HDL) are all measurements of the quantity and concentration of fat that is flowing through our blood. Optimal levels are considered to be below 150 mg/dL for triglycerides, below 100 mg/dL for LDL, above 50 mg/dl for HDL and below 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol.

Why Does High Cholesterol Cause Stroke?

Cholesterol, lipoproteins, triglycerides and other fats are all necessary for the body’s regular structure and functions.  However, excess cholesterol and fat circulating in the blood vessels increase the propensity of blood clot formation. A blood clot in the brain causes a stroke. Triglycerides and LDL can deposit in the blood vessel lining, injuring the inner layer. When the inner lining of a blood vessel becomes injured, the resulting irregularity and narrowing can trap platelets and debris as they flow through.

The excess fats circulating within the blood vessels also have a relatively 'sticky' chemical composition, and thus have a tendency to adhere to clumps of platelet cells and debris, causing dangerous blood clots.


High cholesterol  ====> Cholesterol damages blood vessels ====> Cholesterol causes blood clots to form ====> Blood clots get trapped in damaged blood vessels ====> The brain does not receive enough oxygen because the blood clots interrupt blood flow ====> The brain becomes damaged due to lack of oxygen ====> Neurological symptoms that correspond to the damaged location in the brain begin


Cholesterol and Stroke

High cholesterol levels have been found to be associated with an increased risk of stroke.

A recent study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, reported that men and women who have high triglyceride levels experience an increased incidence of stroke. Another research article published in the December 2014 issue of Geriatrics and Gerontology International found that people with high total cholesterol levels experience worsened recovery after a stroke. These reports are consistent with years of scientific research that confirms the strong causative effect of high cholesterol on stroke.

Good Cholesterol

You may have heard about good cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often referred to as good cholesterol. HDL has been found to protect against stroke by protecting against injury to blood vessels and preventing blood clots. A recent article published in the January 2015 Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology also described anti-inflammatory and anti oxidant properties of HDL. Exercise has been shown to raise HDL levels in the blood.

Lowering Your Cholesterol

There is no doubt that it is worthwhile to control your cholesterol if your levels are not optimal.

Maintaining good cholesterol levels has been scientifically proven to decrease your predisposition to stroke. Some people have a hereditary disposition to high cholesterol. A high fat diet increases blood cholesterol level. A sedentary lifestyle also contributes to high triglyceride levels, high LDL and low HDL. Often, changes in your diet that lower fat intake can help lower blood your cholesterol if your numbers are not ideal. Sometimes, people need to take prescription medication to lower high cholesterol levels, especially if there is a hereditary predisposition, if exercise and changes to the diet are not helping, or if your cholesterol level is extremely high.
Changing your diet can be challenging. Science has proven that a low salt, diet moderate in fats can help prevent a stroke. Healthy foods such as fish and nuts can also help prevent a stroke because they contain nutrients that work to make changes in the body's function to prevent blood vessel damage, blood clot formation and harmful blood pressure irregularities.


High-density lipoproteins in stroke, Meilhac O, Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, January 2015

Prognostic factors for long-term poor outcomes after acute ischemic stroke in very old age (>80 years) patients: Total cholesterol level might differently influence long-term outcomes after acute ischemic stroke at ages above 80 years, Cha JK, Lim JH, Kim DH, Nah HW, Park HS, Choi JH, Suh HK, Huh JT, Geriatrics and Gerontology International, December 2014

Fasting and non-fasting triglycerides and risk of ischemic cardiovascular disease in Japanese men and women: the Circulatory Risk in Communities Study (CIRCS), Iso H, Imano H, Yamagishi K, Ohira T, Cui R, Noda H, Sato S, Kiyama M, Okada T, Hitsumoto S, Tanigawa T, Kitamura A; CIRCS Investigators, Atherosclerosis, November 2014

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