Strokes – not just affecting elderly

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Growing up in these United States has really changed since I was a little boy more than 60 years ago.

Today we have incredible technology at our fingertips and, for the younger kids, that’s proving to be almost all-consuming of their time and limited attention spans.

Medicine has made fabulous strides, and we’re living longer. Processed foods and fast foods that didn’t even exist when I was young are now the mainstay of the younger generation’s diet, and researchers have begun reporting that what kids are eating is doing enormous amounts of damage, first with unbelievable jumps in the obesity rate and secondly in the soaring rates of Type 2 diabetes.

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We used to think only “old” people had strokes, and they still do. But in a shocking announcement from the American Stroke Association in its February report, older people are suffering fewer strokes while young and middle-aged Americans are showing alarming increases in the frequency of strokes.

Here are just a few eye-opening statistics taken from research done nationwide comparing stroke hospitalizations by age in the time periods of 1994-95 and 2006-07. The results from a sample of hospitals in 41 different states involving about 8 million cases were shocking. For every 10,000 hospitalizations for stroke, there was an increase of 51 percent from 9.8 percent in 1994-05 to 14.8 percent in 2006-07 for males ages 15 to 34. Age 15! That’s outrageous.

For females the differences from the 1994 time period to the 2006 time frame was an increase of 17 percent among those ages 15 to 34. Who would have ever thought we’d be discussing strokes among kids and young adults?

The numbers continue to stun with a 47 percent increase in the same time periods for males between 35 and 44 and a 36 percent increase for women in the same age group. So what could possibly be the cause of such a jump in strokes?

Obesity is one of the underlying conditions that can lead to strokes, but there’s a story behind the story.

Researchers think there may be a strong link in those age groups for people who consume diet sodas. Isn’t it amazing to think that by trying to reduce their sugar intake, these drinkers of diet sodas may be increasing their risk for a brain attack – a stroke?

That same study also found increased risk for stroke for those people who consumed more than 1500 milligrams of salt a day – a little more than ½ a teaspoon per day.

Processed food and the use of table salt can really add up, and those people who consume at least 4,000 milligrams were found to have a 250 percent higher risk of stroke than people who limited their daily salt intake to 1,500 mg or less.

This is critical information because in this country, stroke is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, taking the lives of more than 137,000 people a year according to the American Stroke Association. The possible link between strokes and diet soft drinks is just one more red flag regarding the intake of soft drinks.

Previous research has already been substantiated and reported that those who drank more than one soft drink a day, whether regular or diet, were more likely than non-drinkers to have several other health risk factors including high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides (blood fats), low levels of good cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar and large waists, all part of a diagnosis referred to as metabolic syndrome.

And metabolic syndrome is known to and has been proven to increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

While strokes continue to occur most frequently among older people, the increase among those as young as 15 is a major wake-up call regarding our diet and eating habits. As you can imagine, there are several other factors to consider regarding increased likelihood of a stroke, such as gender, level of physical activity, daily calorie intake, smoking and alcohol consumption.

But the bottom line remains that people in the studies who drank diet soda daily – compared to those who drank no soda – were 61 percent more likely to have a vascular event. Not surprisingly, while the research shows a high correlation between soda and stroke, there is not yet a consensus as to why. More research has to be done, but if the original study is replicated in subsequent research, it will not bode well for the daily consumption of diet soft drinks.

Does this mean you can never have another soda? Of course not, but common sense does suggest, just as with sugary desserts or even red wine that is high in antioxidants, all things in moderation.

Try to cut down on salt, read food labels to see what’s in the foods you’re eating and hold yourself to no more than one soft drink a week.

That’s a tough prescription to follow, but the truth be told, it’s a lot easier to do than recover from a stroke – at any age.

Ron Kauffman is a Geriatric Care Manager and Certified Senior Advisor. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available at He can be reached by email at