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Boosting Heart Nerve Control

Which food was found to improve heart rate variability?

September 25, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



Next, everyone feel for your pulse. Stick your hand out thumbs up, feel for the knobby bone at the top of your wrist. Then if you slide your hand down across the front of your wrist you’ll feel these like strands of spaghetti—those are the tendons in your wrist. If you lightly feel between the knobby bone and that first tendon, you should feel your pulse. Got it?
OK, now we’re going to feel what happens to your pulse when we take a deep breath. We’re going to try it twice—try to feel what happens to your pulse when you inhale and when you exhale. All right, here we go—slow inhale… slow exhale. One more time…
What happened when you breathed in and breathed out? You should have felt your pulse speed up when you breathe in and slow down when you breathe out—that’s called heart rate variability and it’s a very good thing. That’s a measure of the control our nerves have over our heart.
This is the survival curve for people after a heart attack. With good heart rate variability, 9 out of 10 people are still alive 4 years later. But with bad heart rate variability, half drop dead from sudden cardiac death in that time period.
is there anything we can do to improve our neurological control over our heart? A landmark article this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there was only one type of food that could significantly improve our heart rate variability. Is it citrus fruits, omega 3s’, or dark green leafy vegetables???
Let’s look at the graph: Here’s the level at which statistical significance is reached. Let’s see which one makes it. Eating just a daily half serving of greens, significantly improved neuronal heart control, which may be why studies in the past have suggested a quarter cup of greens a day could cut our risk of having a heart attack by 67%! So control your heart—by any greens necessary.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on heart health. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

Check out my associated blog posts for more context:  Magnesium-Rich Foods to Prevent Sudden Death and Do Vegans Get More Cavities? 

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on heart health. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      OK!! Got this from todays vid 5/25/12.  This is fantastic!! Guess what I just added to my arsenal in my Pysical Exams.  I was never taught this in residency by my FM, IM or Card Docs!!!
      I pose a question:  What about a fib?  I have been in Cardiology for 20 years now, doing Cardiac Ultrasound (now I read them instead of doing them) but all those years I have always heard the Docs and Coumadin nurses tell the “Rat Poison” patients to not eat any kind of leafy greens because of the Vit K (I won’t go into the physiology for the sake of briefness–Ha Ha). 

      Now this never made sense to me because why would I put someone on a drug and tell them now you can’t have anything green in your diet.  I guess that’s good if we like to promote cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia but I did have one Attending in residency that made me see the light!  You can have all the leafy greens you want you just have to eat it consistently.  Meaning if you have 3 servings of Kale a week then you have 3 servings everyweek.  This stabalize the INR and you will now be preventing diseases.

      But what about Atrial Fibrillation?  Do leafy greens help regulate heart rate and rhythm?  Well regardless of what the science shows (unless it’s detrimental)  I will continue to recommend greens to my patients diets and especially to my anticoagulated patients (In a consistent manner).

      I am always amazed at what the science shows and what is taught in medicine.  It seems that myth’s perpetuate but the truth gets lost ;-{

      • Megann19

        You are correct in that for those on Coumadin, week-to-week consistency is the key with foods that are high in vitamin K: Particularly cooked greens (collard, kale, Swiss chard), broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other foods containing more than 100 mcg (micrograms) per serving.  The DRIs for vitamin K is approx 100 mcg/day for men and 80 mcg/day for women.  Since vitamin K is fat soluble, it is appropriate just to average the amount consumed over 1 week and to make sure it approximates the minimum DRI per day. The dark leafy greens are some of the most nutritionally dense foods and they contribute powerful and important antioxidants.  However, the issue can become a bit of a balancing act for those on Coumadin.  Even if one is consistent in their intake of foods high in vitamin K, if they consume several servings a week, they may need higher doses of Coumadin. On the other hand, and JUST as importantly, if they don’t get ENOUGH vitamin K; for example in some people who do not eat a plant centered diet, who do not regularly consume foods high in vitamin K, they can become deficient and require another reliable source (such as a vitamin K containing commercial nutrition supplement like Boost or Ensure), as vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting, and internal bleeding can be a real risk and dangerous for those who are deficient in vitamin K who are on Coumadin.  Yet another reason to embrace a plant strong/vegan lifestyle!  Thank You HemoDynamic MD, for your excellent question

        • Megann19

          I am not certain, however, about the effect of leafy greens on a fib.  Still, I hope the above information helps!  M.Harris, RD, LD

          • HemoDynamic, M.D.

            The information does help.  But I would rather my patients eat leafy greens than Boost or Ensure which are loaded with the milk protein Casein.  So you are correct keep adding the greens!  You said Plant Strong–Any relation to Engine 2 diet?

  • pnadams

    Can you get too much greens? What if my diet is primarily broccoli, spinach, kale, romaine, etc.?

    • Toxins

      We indeed can, check out this video showing how much is too much.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Your lifestyle should include Starch as the center of your meal (Rice, Pasta, Beans, Potatoes, Corn, Quinoa, etc) and the Vegetables should complement the dish.  This way you won’t overdo the greens; however, if you steam them then you tend to deactivate the toxic phytochemicals that are known to cause problems.  As Toxins stated in his link to the “How much is Too much” Video from

  • Tina

    Husband had stent placed 6 months ago, consequently adopted vegan diet; Happily and committed to the diet. We want to take our supplements – Calm (powered magnesium 350-700mg @ noc), D3 3000/ day, Niacin 500mg day- but cardio dr says NO! Husband prescribed associated cardiac meds- ASA 81mg, effient, metropolol, lisinopril,amolodapine, clonadine. Will not take statins ordered or zetia; but cholesterol # are TC=149, LDL=80. Triclycerides have gone up, 149 to current 214. We want to take our supplements and think they may help esp. to lower triglycerides. We want to understand. We are not fighting the meds (except stains) because we believe diet and nutrition is key.What do we need to know to be able to speak about this- or are his necessary meds and the supplements just contraindicated together? Any pointers appreciated!

  • Ellie Kelman

    I’ve been lowering my bp by successful weight loss (35 lbs) and vegan diet since March 15. But the bp still got higher in the pm. Today I prepared a Chai tea type beverage without the caffeine and now notice (it’s evening) that my bp did not rise. It’s 107/68, heart rate 65. I’m 72.
    This is a delicious hot “tea” substitute because caffeine makes my bp go through the roof. I’m calling it Chai (Hebrew for “life” and sounds like “Chai” a little)
    1/4 tsp of each of the following – cinnamon, ground cloves, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, ground ginger, baking cocoa
    1/2 tsp milled flaxseed (gives drink a creamy texture)
    pinch cayenne (red pepper)
    Put this in a cup of 1/2 water 1/2 cranberry juice and
    Nuke it until piping hot, Stir

  • Carolyn

    What foods have iodine in them?

  • Dennis Fink

    Thanks so much for all your great work, especially the heart, atrial fibrillation and joint pain info! Many members of my family have atrial fibrillation which seems to be the familial type. I just downloaded your Vol 16 DVD and it is great! Any additional info on the above topics will be greatly appreciated!!! I’m telling all my friends about your info on cancer and all topics. I have been 90% vegan for almost 2 years but still have atrial fib and recently developed knee pain also so I may have to eliminate the dark fish, up the antioxidant intake, etc.

  • Linden

    Please someone weigh in on heart arryhthmias and low EPA/DHA levels. I was diagnosed with a Right Ventricular Tachycardia about 6 months after becoming Vegan. Since then I have undergone a Cardiac Ablation proceedure (I refuse to take any meds) and now have SVT and Im still not convinced they got the VT. Structurally there is nothing wrong with my heart and although this is a pretty good prognosis as far as the VT goes,, its still pretty scarey when my heart jumps up to 240 BPM randomly . Last time I was at the gym l most passed out. There is one Dr. talking about Heart Arryhthmias occuring in lower fat Vegans due to what he thinks are low DHA levels. I am currently taking a Algae based EPA/DHA supplement. I can’t get anyone else in the Vegan wellness community to weigh in on this matter and I have contacted all the “big” names. Your comments would be greatly appreciated. I am certain I am not the only person with this problem or concern. Thanks

    • Jean

      SVT is a subject that my husband and I have been looking at recently and more than one person that we know of have seen a connection between their SVT and GERD being related. A couple of things we have been looking at is how well the food is chewed and eating smaller meals with no snacks. One friend had both GERD and SVTs and got rid of her SVT when she made habit changes that got rid of the GERD. I know this is only two examples but it would be worth trying.