Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a condition affecting over 2.3 million Americans. AFib occurs when the normal rhythmic pumping of the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, breaks down. Instead of a normal heartbeat, the atria pulse or fibrillate at a very fast or irregular rate. This can lead to increased stroke risk and heart failure.
Avoiding or limiting certain foods can reduce your risk of an AFib episode. Here are some food items to keep in check if you have AFib:
Studies have shown that alcohol can trigger an AFib episode in people who have previously had a paroxysmal AFib attack. Binge drinking is especially risky. However, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), even moderate drinking can lead to AFib episodes in people with heart disease or diabetes.
For years, it was a standard recommendation that people diagnosed with AFib should avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, guarana, soda, and other sources.
However, clinical studies have failed to show a link between caffeine intake and AFib episodes. A large Scandinavian study showed no association with coffee intake and AFib. Another study in dogs showed that the risk of triggering an AFib episode was actually reduced in the animals given caffeine.
You might want to limit your intake of high-caffeine energy drinks, but a cup of coffee is probably just fine.
Eating right for AFib means eating right for your whole body. Obesity and high blood pressure can increase the risk of AFib. One way to combat excess weight, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure is to follow a low-fat diet. Cardiologists recommend that patients with AFib reduce fat intake.
Some unhealthy fats include:
- saturated fat (found in butter, cheese, and other solid fats)
- trans fats (found in margarine)
- cholesterol (found in fatty meats and dairy
Salt intake is a big culprit in worsening hypertension or high blood pressure, a risk factor for atrial fibrillation. Cardiologists recommend reducing sodium in your diet to maintain heart health and reduce AFib risk.
Many processed and frozen foods contain high salt content, so be sure to read labels and try to stick with fresh foods. Salt substitutes and fresh herbs and spices can keep food flavorful without all the added sodium.
On the flip side of excess sodium is the risk of low potassium. Potassium is an important nutrient for cardiac health. It allows muscles to work efficiently. Many people may have low potassium levels due to poor diet or taking certain medications like diuretics. Low potassium levels may increase the risks of arrhythmia.
Some good food sources of potassium include:
- fruits like bananas, apricots, and oranges
- root vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets
Talk to your doctor about all the medications you’re currently taking before adding more potassium to your diet.
If you have AFib, you may be taking warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner that helps to prevent blood clots. But, vitamin K can interact with warfarin and reduce its effectiveness.
Vitamin K is present in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale. It’s also found in cauliflower, parsley, green tea, and calf’s liver. It’s best to avoid large quantities of these foods while taking warfarin.
You might want to think twice about drinking that glass of grapefruit juice when you take your pills in the morning. Grapefruit juice contains a powerful chemical called naringenin. This chemical can interfere with the effectiveness of antiarrhythmic drugs like amiodarone (Cordarone) and dofetilide (Tikosyn). Grapefruit juice can also affect how other medications are absorbed into the blood from the intestines.
Knowledge Is Power
Avoiding or limiting certain foods and taking care of your health will help you lead a normal, active life with AFib. Talk with your doctor about medication and food interactions. Follow a low-fat, low-salt diet to help with other underlying health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, and to reduce your risks for episodes of AFib.