Functional Neurology
of Middlesex County
Gregory Symko, D.C., D.A.B.C.N.
747 Main Street Suite 205
Concord, MA 01742
Directions & Office Hours

Posts about the topic: Stroke & Heart Attack

Dr. Symko, Concord-area Functional Neurologist, and Functional Medical Practitioner writes about the Evolution of Health.

The Evolution of Health

I was thinking about health and the system we currently have in place when the above phrase came to mind.

Healthcare has evolved over the centuries but so have our ailments.  There was a time when a tooth abscess could kill a person, or a minor scrap could cause a massive infection.  Today, fortunately, these seem minor.

Image result for Chief Red Cloud

Unfortunately, now we have heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and cancer, not to mention chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, diabetes, MS, and the list goes on.

Some say we have these diseases because we are living longer, but others say it is because of how we treat ourselves.

According to the World Health Organization, most modern diseases are due to lifestyle choices.

It is becoming clear that that is the case, so what are the correct lifestyle choices?  Some would say a vegetarian diet and plenty of exercise is the best.  Others would argue that a diet based on meat along with exercise is the best, some say food is not that important, but Yoga or meditation.

There are as many opinions about what the right choices are as there are people on the planet.  So what works?

Here are a few examples.  First, my mother-in-law and my next door neighbor, both are in the mid to late nineties.  Neither relies on a cane or walker; they walk up and down a flight of stairs never getting out of breath or needing help other that holding onto the railing.  Both think and speak clearly; both are well-informed and funny.

What did they do to encourage such good health?

My mother-in-law does not drive, never drank alcohol or smoked, and neither did my next door neighbor.

So is that the answer?  Not sure, but it certainly helped.

Another example is women in Asia that climb trees for fruit, well into their nineties.  My mother-in-law and neighbor could climb trees to collect fruit.  So what kind of lifestyle do those women have?

The last example is a the Sioux Chief Red Cloud.  He was riding horses and fighting battles well into his eighties.  (I’m not sure I could ride a horse now, and I’m only in my 50’s!)  What kind of lifestyle did he have?  He slept, walked a lot, probably smoked, but he ate buffalo and root vegetables.

What are the commonalities between these people that we can put together to follow a lifestyle that can copy theirs?  Is there a central thread or habit that we should incorporate into our daily lives?  That is for the next blog.

Dr. Greg Symko-The most valuable thing I learned from my stroke.

We all tend to go about our lives trying to get things done. Whether it is getting to work on time, getting the kids off to school, cleaning the bathrooms, washing the car, cutting the lawn.

Our days are filled with activity and work. Rarely do we have time to think about our accomplishments, dreams and how fortunate we are to be able to do all these things. The simple act of making a cup of coffee or tea is breathtaking. This is especially true when the ability to do this simple task as well as the others is taken away from you.

I understand that feeling. I understand the lose of not being able to do simple tasks again. What I learned from my stroke is to be grateful for every day and every task that needs to be done. If there is something missing in your life or you are not happy with, change it and deal with it today, because tomorrow you may not get another chance.

Dr. Greg Symko-A slow recovery from a stroke can be frustrating.

I had a long conversation with a patient today about her progress. We went through some exercises and she had a hard time with them. She was frustrated and angry since over the weekend she had no trouble with them. I told her that I understood her frustration. Not always with stroke recovery do you consistently get better. Like any one you have bad days and good days. The only trouble with stroke recovery is that your brain has very little extra reserve. So the bad days can feel pretty bad, almost like you’ve regressed all the way back to the beginning.

I still have bad days were my pain seems unbearable or I’m dizzier than before or light headed or very fatigue. I have to except these days and I tell my patient’s that unfortunately they have to as well. One of my patients had a wonderful out look. She said, “The bad days only make the good days that much better.”

Dr. Greg Symko-What are one of the primary causes of heart attacks and strokes?

It is triglycerides (the other blood fat), that is the primary risk factor increasing your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Many people are surprised to learn that even though triglycerides are a fat, the unhealthy diet that raises triglycerides has nothing to do with fat intake; triglycerides (and cholesterol as well) are elevated by eating sugar.

The other dietary factor that in some cases will raise cholesterol is polyunsaturated oils (the ones that the propaganda says will help prevent cardiovascular disease).

Neither triglycerides nor cholesterol are elevated by eating saturated fat in general or high cholesterol foods in particular. Remember, while cholesterol is not a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, triglycerides are, and are probably the most significant.

A study published in Circulation (October 21, 1997, shows the result of Harvard research indicating that …


What raises triglycerides? Starchy foods and sugary foods. The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke is to either significantly reduce your starch and sugar intake or completely eliminate it.

Saturated Fat and Strokes

A study done by Gilman, et al and published in the December 24, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association found that …


This study found that polyunsaturated fats have no protective effect.

Best of all, this study actually was able to quantify the protective effect of saturated fats:


Here is another interesting study done by Leddy, et al and published in 1997 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Volume 29.

The subjects of this study were elite male and female endurance athletes, who were placed alternately on a high fat diet and then a low fat diet.

On a high saturated fat diet the patients maintained low body fat, normal weight, normal blood pressure, normal resting heart rate, normal triglycerides and normal serum cholesterol levels.

All their fitness and training parameters were maintained at the elite level. When put on the low fat (high complex carbohydrate) diet, however, it was found that the low fat diet negated many of the beneficial effects that exercise is expected to produce.

The athletes experienced a measurable decline in athletic performance. Most interesting, however, was the fact that the subjects on the low fat diet actually suffered a significant drop in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), along with higher triglycerides (both of which are significant CVD risk factors. —

In fact, the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol is probably the number one risk factor for CVD.

In other words, you want high cholesterol of the HDL type, and low triglycerides. Another interesting factor is the high complex carbohydrate diet is loaded with gluten. This is found in wheat products particularly the whole grain variety. Gluten is inflammatory and can cause LDL cholesterol to rise.