Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States.
People with AFib have many medical and procedural treatment options. Taking proper care of your body, learning about your specific triggers, and taking a more holistic approach to heart health can help you control your condition.
Caffeine is a stimulant that energizes the central nervous system and increases your heart rate. Many studies, including one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have concluded that there isn’t necessarily a link between caffeine consumption and AFib. However, everybody is different.
Lower your intake or steer clear of caffeinated beverages and chocolate if you feel that it would help. You may want to avoid:
- coffee and some teas
- energy drinks
- some over-the-counter medications, including weight loss supplements
Cigarettes also impact AFib. One study conducted over a 13-year period found that people who smoke cigarettes are twice as likely to develop AFib. Those who quit smoking after being diagnosed experienced a lower incidence of AFib than those who continued. So quit while you’re ahead. Your heart will thank you.
When it comes to the heart, you need to be especially careful about what you eat. Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is highly recommended. Good sources of protein include:
- lean meats
- albacore tuna
- low-fat dairy
It’s also important to know that if you are taking blood thinning medications (like warfarin), foods with high levels of vitamin K can interfere and make them less effective. Your medication levels may need to be adjusted if your diet is high in vitamin K.
Foods to fill up on (low in vitamin K)
Fruits and veggies should be central to your diet, especially those low in vitamin K. Heart-healthy examples include:
- green beans
- red cabbage
Foods to eat in moderation (high in vitamin K)
There are many healthy foods that are high in vitamin K. These foods can still be a part of a heart-healthy diet, but they should be eaten in moderation if you are taking any blood thinning medications. They include:
- Brussels sprouts
- collard greens
- garbanzo beans
- green tea
- mustard greens
- olive oil
- swiss chard
Talk to your doctor if your diet is high in any of these vitamin K-rich foods. Your doctor can monitor your vitamin K levels and get you the right dosage of blood thinners.
Food to avoid
It’s important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet when you have AFib. This is because inflammation is one of the leading causes of heart disease. Inflammatory foods that you should avoid include:
- refined carbohydrates
- excessive sodium
- saturated fats
- trans fats found in fast food and processed snack products
- gluten and casein (in some people)
Quite a bit of research, including a study in the Journal of American Cardiology, has concluded that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of AFib. Not only can alcohol increase your heart rate, but it also dehydrates you. Dehydration can cause an imbalance in your body’s electrolyte levels, which can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm. Therefore, it’s very important to stay well-hydrated.
Water is the obvious choice, but you also might enjoy coconut water. This alternative is high in magnesium and potassium and low in sodium, an ideal combination for those with AFib.
Though you should consult your doctor first, you might consider taking supplements to boost your cardiac health. Fish oil has received much attention for its possible antiarrhythmic effects. Other supplements to look into include:
- coenzyme Q10
- hawthorn berry
- Chinese herb wenxin keli
A study published in early 2012 investigated claims that the wenxin keli was effective in suppressing AFib. It now holds the title of the first state-sanctioned traditional Chinese medicine-based antiarrhythmic drug.
A study conducted in Sweden concluded that there’s a link between celiac disease and AFib. It suggests an association between inflammation and AFib, which potentially can be avoided by eliminating gluten from your diet.
Not all who are allergic to gluten have celiac disease, so it may be beneficial to experiment with removing foods rich in gluten from your diet. Though the idea of giving up bread and pasta may terrify you, many now come in gluten-free varieties. There are also many grains and starches that are naturally gluten-free. These include:
- nut flours
- gluten-free oats
What you do with your body is just as important as what you put into it. Some form of exercise is critical for everyone, but in the case of AFib, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Find a routine that doesn’t push your heart rate through the roof, but still offers a good workout. Make sure you take care of yourself by resting when you need to.
Emotional health affects your physical health as well. Try to reduce stress wherever you can. Coupled with a tailored exercise routine, getting enough sleep every night should help with this.
Consider taking yoga classes. They can also serve as your workout regimen. The focus of yoga practice is on the breath, which can be linked to heart rate. The yogi culture promotes healthy eating habits, continued practice, and mindfulness as well.
AFib is quite common, and there are many resources for those who have it. Whether you opt for medical treatments or natural alternatives, your condition will likely improve with some basic lifestyle changes.
What is the most important lifestyle change to make after being diagnosed with AFib?
Probably the most important lifestyle change is to work on getting your blood pressure down. High blood pressure stresses the heart and can cause AFib to occur. You can decrease your blood pressure and decrease AFib events by changing your lifestyle in a few ways. These ways include lowering your stress, exercising 30 minutes daily, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, avoiding food that causes inflammation, avoiding alcohol, and stopping smoking.Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COIAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.