Strokes, also known as cerebrovascular accidents, are one of the most sudden and unpredictable conditions we as humans can suffer from. Most of the time and with no warning, we can go from fully active and living life normally, to being bed-ridden and incontinent, or in some cases, dead.
Medical researchers and scientists have been working on identifying tools, techniques and medication which can reduce the effect strokes have on the human body. One of their findings is using the supplement melatonin. While relatively new, giving melatonin for stroke recovery is showing positive signs, and we’re going to look into these findings in depth today. We will also explain what a stroke is, plus treatment and rehabilitation too.
Before you do, remember that we are not medical professionals — all the information we provide here we have found from a range of sources online. We strongly recommend that you seek the advice of a doctor if you have any concerns about your likelihood of having a stroke, if you think you are having or have had a stroke, and for stroke rehabilitation and medication needs.
What is a Stroke?
To understand the benefits of giving melatonin for stroke recovery, you need first to understand what a stroke is.
There are two main types of strokes: ischemic (the most common) and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel which supplies the brain is blocked by a blood clot. The part of the brain supplied by that blood vessel begins to die because blood and oxygen cannot pass to it.
A haemorrhagic stroke is when bleeding occurs in the brain, preventing blood flowing to parts of the brain. This stroke type has a higher fatality rate than an ischemic stroke.
Signs and symptoms someone may show upon recently having a stroke include:
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Unable to speak or jumbled speech
- Difficulty walking or balancing
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision in one or both eyes
The New Zealand Stroke Foundation uses the acronym FAST to help people identify the signs and symptoms of a stroke. They are:
- F – face drooping
- A – arm weakness
- S – speech difficulty
- T – time to call 111
Fast treatment by a medical professional is essential to reduce the potential damage caused by the stroke and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. For ischemic strokes, there is a magic three-hour window from the onset of stroke symptoms in which a medication can be given which stops further brain damage occurring. Called tPa or tissue plasminogen activator, this clot-busting medicine can improve outcomes, but only if given within the three-hour window. After three hours, it’s administration can cause more harm than good.
There is also a procedure in which a device is inserted into the stroke victim’s blood vessel which is blocked, and the clot is then grabbed and removed. Once again, there is a limited time-frame for this to be done and is it mostly used in combination with tPa.
By far though, prevention is better than cure, and the NZ Stroke Foundation recommends to reduce the risk of a stroke occurring, people:
- Have regular blood pressure checks and undertake treatment if required
- Eat a diet low in salt
- Don’t smoke
- Keep active
- Lose weight if overweight
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Make healthy food choices
- Exercise regularly
- Have regular check-ups at the doctor
If a stroke does occur, there are some rehabilitation options, and we’ll discuss those next.
Rehabilitation After a Stroke
In the first few days after a stroke, a patient undergoes many tests to see if a cause for the blood clot to be found. If required, treatment may occur to assist in the prevention of further strokes due to the identified cause. Often warfarin or other anticoagulant medications are started around a week after a stroke, but this can depend on the stroke severity.
The first few days are often spent resting, in which the patient will sleep most of the time. This is due to the brain needing to recover first. The patient and their family become very aware of the damage caused by the stroke. From being unable to talk, feed themselves, control their bladder, dress or walk, these symptoms are highly worrying.
Doctors cannot predict the amount of recovery a patient will achieve. For some, normal functions will recover quickly, especially if tPa was completed. For others, no improvement is seen at all, or improvement occurs slowly over several months.
In the hospital, the stroke victim will very quickly begin an active rehabilitation program using a range of professionals including:
- occupational therapists – help with managing the daily tasks of life after a stroke
- speech therapists – check that the swallowing reflux is working before letting them eat and drink, assist with re-learning how to talk
- physiotherapists – assist with the recovery of movement in affected limbs, teach ways of managing with minimal usage of those limbs if required, help maintain muscle tone in affected limbs
It is once the acute stage is over that the possibility of using melatonin for stroke recovery can commence. Let’s look at that next.
How Doctors Use Melatonin for Stroke Recovery
Medical researchers and scientists have been trying to find a way to limit the brain damage a stroke causes. One of the ‘weapons’ they’ve found is melatonin. Used to limit the damage, not repair it, melatonin for stroke recovery assists the brain by protecting it from injury. Melatonin is made naturally by the brain in the pineal glands to assist with the regulation of sleep cycles. As a sleep-inducing hormone, it is present in higher levels during the evening, except in those
Melatonin is an antioxidant. It binds the free radicals released by the brain after a stroke, removing them so no further damage should hopefully occur. Acting as an anti-inflammatory, melatonin helps to reduce brain cell death due to brain infection while lessening the damage in brain tissue which has suffered a lack of blood flow.
Studies have found that low melatonin levels are associated with higher stroke risk, making it even more beneficial before a stroke occurs, as well as after. Melatonin can also reduce the harmful LDL cholesterol level of a person. This can help to lower blood pressure, useful for stroke prevention too.
One final benefit of melatonin for stroke recovery patients is that it increases neuroplasticity. This is the ability a brain nerve cell has to begin doing the activities the dead or damaged brain cell used to do before the stroke. Researchers have also found melatonin to provide useful benefits for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease too.
How Would You Cope After a Stoke?
As a major cause of death and disability in New Zealand, strokes sadly rank very highly. While some people do have a good recovery, for others there remains a lifelong change. This can be in their physical abilities, communication and comprehension, severely disrupting their lives. Sometimes returning home is not an option due to the cost of needing 24/7 assistance or significant modifications to their home. Having to rely on the public health system for their rehabilitation services, recovery may not be as swift, or be smaller than if professionals worked more often with the stroke victim.
Having the right medical insurance will ensure that you can access the support you need when you need it. Income protection and life cover insurance removes the financial worry, letting you or your family member concentrate on getting better.
We’re more than happy to chat with you about your specific options in regards to insurance. Book a time to chat with one of our insurance advisors today.