Alternative Treatments for Arrhythmia

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 7, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 7, 2014

Alternative Treatments for Arrhythmia

Most heart arrhythmias are harmless and require no treatment. Some are more serious, even life threatening. If you have an arrhythmia, you might want to try alternative treatments in addition to the treatment plan your doctor has prescribed. Always discuss any alternative or complementary treatments with your doctor first. Some can be harmful if used incorrectly.

Types of Alternative Treatments

Acupuncture

Research published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology suggests that acupuncture may help prevent abnormal heart rhythms after cardioversion for atrial fibrillation (AF).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Studies show that people who eat consume fatty fish— such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna— are at a lower risk for heart disease.  That’s because these fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and are an especially good source of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.  Supplementing your diet with these fish and their oils may improve heart health and prevent arrhythmias. The benefits of fish oils may be seen within 90 days of regular use. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of these cold-water fatty fish per week.

Vitamin C

We all need vitamin C, but 20 to 30 percent of adults in the United States don’t get enough. Vitamin C is used for colds, flu, and even cancer, and research shows that it might help with arrhythmia.

In heart surgery, atrial fibrillation (characterized by an irregular, rapid heartbeat) is a problem for 25 to 40 percent of patients. In one small study, vitamin C was shown to reduce the post-operative occurrence of atrial fibrillation by as much as 85 percent.

In another study, after cardioversion (a medical procedure to correct irregular heartbeat) for persistent AF, arrhythmia recurred in four-and-a-half percent of patients who received vitamin C. It recurred in 36.3 percent of those who did not receive vitamin C.

Arrhythmia and other heart conditions are associated with oxidant stress and inflammation. Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E appear to be effective in reducing these. 

Magnesium and Potassium

These minerals help keep your heart stable. Too little magnesium can cause irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and irritability. Too much magnesium can cause bradycardia (slow heart rate), dizziness, blurred vision, and breathing difficulty. Most diets are low in magnesium. Aging and some medications (such as diuretics, or “water pills”) can deplete magnesium.

Low potassium may cause arrhythmia and muscle weakness.

Magnesium and potassium, along with sodium and calcium, are examples of substances in the blood called electrolytes. Electrolytes help trigger and regulate electrical impulses in the heart.  Low levels of magnesium and potassium can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which contributes to arrhythmia. Magnesium and potassium supplements might help reduce your symptoms.

Hawthorn

The herb hawthorn is often used to treat palpitations[KRH1] . According to the Lahey Clinic, this herb was prominent in ancient Roman rituals, and has been used since the Middle Ages to treat a variety of conditions, including heart ailments. Today, it is sometimes used to treat congestive heart failure and may help with irregular heartbeat, but studies of its effectiveness in treating arrhythmia are inconclusive.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)

NAC is a modified amino acid. There is some evidence to suggest that it can reduce [KRH2] atrial fibrillation after open heart surgery.

Other Supplements

The following supplements are sometimes recommended for arrhythmia, but there is little evidence of their effectiveness:

  • vitamin D
  • calcium
  • corydalis
  • valerian
  • skullcap
  • lady’s slipper

Supplements to Avoid

The following supplements can cause arrhythmia and should be avoided:

  • cola nut
  • guarana
  • ephedra
  • creatine

Talk to Your Doctor

Before you take any supplements, talk with your doctor. Some potent herbal supplements could have adverse interactions with certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that you may be taking.  While the right amounts of these substances might be helpful, the wrong amount can be harmful or even fatal.

  • DHA and EPA can cause bleeding if taken with warfarin (Coumadin). They must be stopped at least two weeks before any surgery.
  • Magnesium should not be taken if you have kidney failure or myasthenia gravis.
  • Potassium can cause rash, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Potassium should not be taken if you have hyperkalemia (high blood potassium). Even if you are potassium deficient, you should consult your doctor before taking a potassium supplement.
  • Vitamin C can be toxic if you have hemochromatosis, thalassemia, sideroblastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, or erythrocyte glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. Do not take vitamin C if you have kidney stones or kidney insufficiency.
  • Vitamin E can cause bleeding if taken with warfarin. It can be a problem if you have a vitamin K deficiency. It can cause problems if you have a history of liver failure or any bleeding disorder such as peptic ulcer, hemophilia, or hemorrhagic stroke. Stop taking vitamin E a month before any surgery.

Alternative therapies can be helpful in treating arrhythmia, but only if used properly. Always talk to your doctor first.

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