Nutrition Boost Improves Stroke Recovery

People who have suffered from severe stroke face many challenges to recovery, and among them is undernourishment. A new study found that an intensive nutritional supplement program helps stroke survivors recover physical functioning and improves their likelihood of returning to their homes.

More nourishment leads to more improvement

The study, published in Neurology, included 116 people who were admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation program due to stroke and who had been identified as undernourished. They were randomly assigned to receive either a standard nutritionally balanced food supplement or a high-density nutritional formula with twice the calories and protein, four times the fat, and 2.5 times the vitamin C of the standard formula. Their progress was followed from admission to discharge.

People on both food supplements were in the facility for a similar length of time and had similar improvements in thinking (cognitive) function, but those who used the intensive food supplement reached a higher level of functional independence and improved more on physical function tests than people who used the standard food supplement. Furthermore, 63% of those on the intense nutritional supplement were discharged to their homes, while 43% of those on the standard supplement had to be discharged to an institution for further care.

For stroke sufferers, proper nutrition is essential

Researchers have found that approximately half of all people admitted to inpatient rehabilitation facilities after a stroke are undernourished. There are several possible reasons, including difficulty preparing food and swallowing, which can result from stroke. In addition, most people who suffer from stroke are elderly, and many are already undernourished before their stroke due to prior health problems, poor motor or cognitive functioning, and depression.

Previous studies have found that poor nutrition can slow recovery from stroke, but results from trials of nutritional supplements have been inconsistent. “Our findings suggest that patients who are undernourished after suffering an acute stroke benefit from intensive nutritional supplementation during inpatient stroke rehabilitation,” said lead study author Dr. M. H. Rabadi of the VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City. “Those receiving more intensive nutrition achieved a higher level of functional independence and more of them were able to go home rather than to institutional care.”

Stroke prevention tips

Even if you’ve already had a stroke, you can reduce your risk of future strokes by taking the following steps:

• Manage your blood pressure High blood pressure is the most common controllable risk factor for stroke.

• Stick to a regular exercise program. Being sedentary and being overweight both contribute to stroke risk. Find a buddy or a group to walk with to help you to stay on track.

• Be sure to get the five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables that the American Heart Association recommends. Studies show that “five-a-day” might reduce stroke risk.

• Don’t smoke. Get support if you need help quitting.

(Neurology 2008;71:1856–61)

Maureen Williams, ND

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