Stroke is caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain due to blockage or bursting of a blood vessel.   An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow is blocked, and if oxygen is stopped for more than a few seconds, permanent brain damage can result.  A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is weakened and bursts open.  This causes blood to leak into the brain which can also damage brain cells.

Given that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, it is understandable that scientists are interested in exploring post-stroke brain recovery.  Here are several studies examining how supplements may support brain recovery after stroke.

In 2008 a study was published in the Journal Stroke involving pre-stroke and post-stroke treatment on mice with gingko biloba.  One group of mice was given daily doses of gingko biloba extract prior to laboratory-induced strokes.  These mice suffered roughly 50% less damage than mice that did not receive the supplement. Mice that were not pre-treated with gingko biloba but received it either five minutes or four hours after a stroke also experienced significantly less damage than mice not given the supplement.

A new study on rats suggests that ginseng may also help lessen damage to the brain after cerebral ischemia.  A group of 70 adult, male rats were induced with cerebral ischemia over a period of two hours and then given Ginsenoside Rb1 (GRb1) – an active component of the ginseng root or saline for control.   The rats were then given neurological tests and brain tissue samples were measured for nerve regeneration by studying levels of nestin and BDNF proteins.

The neurological tests showed no differences, but rats in the ginseng group had significantly greater nestin-positive cells.  They also had 35% greater BDNF levels after 3 hours which increased to 60% greater levels after 10 days.  As higher nestin and BDNF levels are strongly associated with neurological recovery after stroke, these results are important.

Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a combination of omega-3 fatty acids and low-dose B vitamins may help enhance brain function after a stroke.  A group of 1,748 people from 45 to 80 years of age with a history of heart attack, angina, or stroke were assigned to one of four treatment groups:  treatment with B vitamins, treatment with omega 3 fatty acids, treatment with both or placebo.

The subjects were followed over a period of four years after which their cognitive function was assessed.  There was no significant effect on brain function among the four groups, but subjects who had a stroke produced interesting results.  Stroke subjects who were treated with the combination of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids had significantly higher test scores for temporal-orientation tasks (naming month, date, year, day of the week and time of day) than the placebo group.  Lead author Valentina Andreeva concluded, “These results could be useful in interventions aimed at preventing cognitive decline in high-risk individuals.”

More research is needed in the area of stroke recovery, but these studies make a good starting place for further investigation.  While a daily multi-vitamin is always a great idea for good health, the supplements mentioned above may also be beneficial for added protection from stroke or to enhance recovery from a stroke.


Aquilani, R., Sessarego, P., Iadarola, P., Boschi F.  Nutrition for Brain Recovery After Ischemic Stroke an Added Value to Rehabilitation.  Nutr Clin Pract June 2011 vol. 26 no. 3 339-345
Gao XQ. Ginsenoside Rb1 Regulates the Expressions of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor and Caspase-3 and Induces Neurogenesis in Rats with Experimental Cerebral Ischemia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 132 (2010) 393–399.
Saleem, Sofiyan et al.  Ginkgo Biloba Extract Neuroprotective Action Is Dependent on Heme Oxygenase 1 in Ischemic Reperfusion Brain Injury. Stroke (2008); 39: 3389-3396