An arrhythmia is an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. A heartbeat that’s too slow is called a bradycardia, and one that’s too fast is called a tachycardia. Most heart arrhythmias are harmless and require no treatment. Some arrhythmias are more serious and even life-threatening, especially if you have multiple ones. When your heart doesn’t beat properly, it disrupts your blood flow. This can damage your heart, brain, or other organs.
If you have an arrhythmia, you might want to try alternative treatments in addition to the treatment plan your doctor prescribes. Always discuss any alternative or complementary treatments with your doctor first because some can be harmful if you use them incorrectly.
A review of several studies reveals that 87 to 100 percent of study participants showed normal heart rhythm functioning after using acupuncture. However, the review concludes that more research and clinical trials are necessary.
Research published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology suggests that acupuncture may help prevent abnormal heart rhythms after cardioversion for atrial fibrillation. This procedure resets the heart’s rhythm, either with chemicals or electricity.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The American Heart Association (AHA) has shown that eating fatty fish and other foods with omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk for heart disease and also help prevent arrhythmias. The AHA recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week, such as:
- albacore tuna
One serving is equal to 3.5 ounces of cooked fish.
Arrhythmias 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.
You can use vitamin C to treat colds, the flu, and even cancer, and it can also help with arrhythmia. In heart surgery, atrial fibrillation, which involves having an irregular, rapid heartbeat, is a problem for 25 to 40 percent of people. In one study, vitamin C was shown to reduce the occurrence of postoperative atrial fibrillation by as much as 85 percent.
In another study, arrhythmia only recurred in 4.5 percent of people who received vitamin C after cardioversion for persistent atrial fibrillation. It recurred in 36.3 percent of those who didn’t receive vitamin C.
Magnesium and potassium
Magnesium and potassium help keep your heart stable. If your body doesn’t have enough magnesium, it can cause an irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and irritability. Too much magnesium can cause:
- blurred vision
- breathing difficulty
Most diets are low in magnesium. Aging and some medications, such as diuretics, or “water pills,” can deplete magnesium and potassium. Additionally, low potassium may cause arrhythmia and muscle weakness.
Magnesium and potassium, along with sodium and calcium, are examples of electrolytes that are present in the blood. Electrolytes help trigger and regulate electrical impulses in the heart and low levels of magnesium and potassium can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which can contribute to arrhythmia. Taking magnesium and potassium supplements can help reduce your symptoms, but you should check with you doctor so that they can monitor your blood levels.
People often use the herb hawthorn to treat palpitations. 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, some people use it to treat congestive heart failure, and it may help with an irregular heartbeat, but studies of its effectiveness in treating arrhythmia are inconclusive.
These other supplements are sometimes recommended for arrhythmia, but more research is necessary to determine their effectiveness:
- lady’s slipper
Supplements to avoid
You should avoid the following supplements, which can cause an arrhythmia:
- cola nut
Talk to your doctor before you take any supplements. Some herbal supplements are potent and can have adverse reactions with certain prescription or over-the-counter medications you may be taking. While the right amounts of these substances might be helpful, the wrong amount can be harmful or even fatal.
Docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, which are present in fish oil, can cause bleeding if taken with warfarin (Coumadin). They must be stopped at least two weeks before any surgery.
You shouldn’t take magnesium if you have kidney failure or myasthenia gravis.
Potassium can cause:
You shouldn’t take it if you have hyperkalemia, or high blood potassium. Even if you’re potassium deficient, you should consult your doctor before taking a potassium supplement.
Vitamin C can be toxic if you have:
- sideroblastic anemia
- sickle cell anemia
- glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
Additionally, don’t take vitamin C if you have kidney stones or a kidney insufficiency.
Vitamin E can cause bleeding if you take it with warfarin. It can also cause problems if you have a:
- vitamin K deficiency
- history of liver failure
- bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia
- peptic ulcer
- hemorrhagic stroke
Stop taking vitamin E a month before any surgery.
Many alternative therapies are available to help treat arrhythmias. Taking the wrong supplements or having the wrong treatment can do more harm than good. Talk to your doctor before starting or changing a treatment plan.