Food and Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is a common heart rhythm abnormality affecting more than 5 million Americans and is characterized by a chaotic firing of electrical impulses within the upper chambers of the heart. Afib causes an irregularly irregular pulse and is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke. 

It’s also the reason you can’t turn on the TV without hearing ads for medications like Xarelto®, Pradaxa® and Eliquis®. 

The incidence rates of Afib are expected to double in the next 30 years. Estimates of the current incremental cost burden of atrial fibrillation range from $6 to $20 billion per year.

But here’s the big news. Like high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and diabetes, Afib is preventable and even treatable through lifestyle and dietary change.

Food-related health issues, including obesity, sleep apnea, diabetes and hypertension, are all risk factors for Afib. Additionally, weight gain places a stress on the heart causing enlargement and fibrosis of the atrial chambers. This enlargement and fibrosis makes the occurrence of atrial fibrillation much more likely.

Here’s what recent research has shown:

  1. In trials with obese animals that lost weight, atrial fibrosis regresseed and Afib was much less likely to occur.
  2. When overweight and obese patients with Afib undergo aggressive risk factor management, they not only lose weight and attain better control of typical cardiac risk factors, they also experience less Afib and show favorable structural changes on the heart.
  3. When Afib patients undergo ablation, an invasive procedure which attempts to eliminate Afib, and aggressively manage their risk factors after the procedure, they not only normalize their blood pressure and blood sugar readings, they also experience a better quality of life. 

We keep coming back to the fundamentals over and over and over again. How we live our lives — and especially what we eat — is what will decide ALL our health outcomes. 

So if you are at risk for Afib because you’re overweight, have high blood pressure, high blood sugar or sleep apnea, you can avoid Afib if you address these food-related risk factors. If you already have Afib, you can eliminate the rhythm abnormality or help your treatments work better through lifestyle change.

Even when it comes to atrial fibrillation, we all have the power to help ourselves heal.

1. Abed HS, Wittert GA, Leong DP, et al. Effect of weight reduction and cardiometabolic risk factor management on symptom burden and severity in patients with atrial fibrillation: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2013; 310:2050-2060
2. Pathak RK, Middeldorp ME, Lau DH, et al. Aggressive risk factor reduction study for atrial fibrillation and implications for the outcome of ablation: The ARREST-AF cohort study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014; 64:2222-2231.

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