Diet and Atrial Fibrillation

Image Credit: zimpenfish / flickr

What’s the best diet for atrial fibrillation?

I started being plant based after Thanksgiving. The principal reason is for my health and hopes to reduce or eliminate some day all my meds. One area that I’ve never seen any reference to is diet and atrial fibrillation. Is there any connection? Can diet begin to replace cumadin or pradaxa?

Duke / Originally posted on the NutritionFacts.org Facebook page

Answer:

Atrial fibrillation is the most common clinical cardiac arrhythmia, an irregularity of our heartbeat rhythm, which can set you up for a stroke, increase your risk of dementia and heart failure, and significantly shorten your lifespan. Previous findings on the effect of diet have been conflicting. Some studies have found alcohol, caffeine and fish consumption to be good in terms of preventing or resolving atrial fibrillation, and other studies have shown them all to be bad. It’s when this kind of situation arises in nutritional science, you pull out the big guns and put it to the test in one of the bigger better studies, like the famous Framingham Heart Study population, which is what was recently done. They found no effect either way in general from the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, or fish, but when they looked closer they observed an association between the consumption of dark fish and atrial fibrillation. A 6-fold higher hazard ratio for those eating a lot of fish like salmon, swordfish, bluefish, mackerel, and sardines. They conclude that their findings may suggest a “true adverse effect of dark fish and fish oil on certain subtypes of atrial fibrillation,” proposing that “potential toxins such as dioxins and methyl mercury accumulated in certain fish may have a negative effect on cardiac arrhythmia.” I profile this study in my video Red Fish, White Fish; Dark Fish, Atrial Fibrillation.

There’s less out there about treatment, but a recent study did find that those with atrial fibrillation with higher intakes of antioxidants did have 80% greater odds of spontaneously reverting back to a normal heart rhythm. Until that happens your physician will likely want you to continue to take those two anticoagulants. My video Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods offers an overview on which foods to choose to maximize antioxidant intake, though since you’re already eating a plant-strong diet, check out Antioxidants in a Pinch for a tip on taking it to the next level. Just make sure not to increase your dark green leafy vegetable consumption while on coumadin without your physician helping you titrate your drug dose.

Image Credit: zimpenfish / flickr

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


11 responses to “What’s the best diet for atrial fibrillation?

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    1. Hi, Linda. I am Christine, a NF volunteer moderator. My first thought on reading your question was what connection there could possibly be between atrial fibrillation and honey. Upon further investigation, I discovered that there is a rarely seen connection between so-called “mad honey” intoxication and atrial fibrillation.
      According to this article, https://www.journalagent.com/anatoljcardiol/pdfs/AnatolJCardiol_12_4_365_366.pdf, “The honey which is produced in the Karadeniz Region of Turkey and known as the ‘mad honey’ contains Rhododendron ponticum nectar. Grayanotoxin is only produced by Ericaceae plants and thought to be responsible for toxicity.” Other honey does not appear to be connected to atrial fibrillation. I hope that helps!

  1. I have been studying http://www.nutritionfacts.org and listening to Dr Gregers’ talks daily for the past month and am so grateful for his work.

    I went vegan in October for environmental reasons after watching “Cowspiracy” and quickly pivoted to a whole-foods, plant-based diet for health reasons after watching “Forks over Knives” and reading “China Study” and
    “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”.

    My Father died suddenly in his early 50’s from a massive stroke. He was a heavy smoker and loved his T-bone steaks! I have been suffering from chronic A-fib for the past 7 years and am only 49 years old. I have always tried to eat a healthy diet and have been a flexitarian for many years, but was misguided by inaccurate information.

    Since switching to a whole foods diet, in just 4 weeks I have: lost 10 lbs, have more energy, have reduced
    aches, pains and stiffness, have no more back and neck pain, have no more leg cramps and muscle spasms,
    have improved flexibility, improved ability to assimilate fruit sugars (Dates, bananas and raisins lo longer bother
    me), have decreased muscle tension, increased strength and stamina, improved digestion, have no
    more chronic headaches / dizziness, have improved mental cognition and memory, have increased typing speed (my wife noticed this one), have improved mood – I find myself happy most of the time – for no apparent reason, have faster response times (I can now beat my 12 year old son at air hockey and foosball!), have reduced food sensitivities (I can now eat strawberries, raw onions, lentils, pineapple, white potatoes and 20 other foods I have avoided for years with no reaction), have reduced allergies – my cat dander allergies are completely gone!, have
    improved muscle tone, have improved complexion – my skin is clearer and softer and all my skin-bumps have cleared up, have improved sleep, and reduced anxiety!

    It is very unusual for me to see any results from the many healing modalities I have tried over the years (and I have tried many!). But now that I am no longer reinjuring myself on a meal to meal basis with animal products, the healing powers of my body have finally been unleashed. If these are the results of just 4 weeks on a plant based diet, I can’t wait to see how I feel in 5 years!

    My question is, has a whole foods, plant based diet been shown to reverse A-fib and are there any specific foods that are more effective at reversing it?

    Thank you,

    Ken

    1. It’s been over 2 years (“Kenneth says: NOVEMBER 30TH, 2015 AT 5:40 PM”) since I left the above post and I have never felt so good! I have been in a continual state of Atrial fibrillation for over 8 years now, but since adopting a WFPB lifestyle, my heart condition is barely an issue. I have more energy than my teenage son. My Crohn’s disease, multiple food & environmental sensitivities, lower back pain, joint pain, psoriasis and chronic fatigue have all cleared up. I feel like I have won a billion dollar health jackpot. The greatest thing is that it is freely available to anyone who wants it. Just don’t go it alone or you will end up wasting 30 years chasing the wrong well-meaning doctors and their therapies and blowing a lot of money like I did. Here’s to thriving.

      1. Ken,

        Thrilled to hear of your thriving condition….nicely done.

        Keep up the great work and spread the word. There are some of us docs who are both well meaning and use functional natural therapeutics as well as all medicine has to offer.

        Dr. Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger

      2. HI Ken

        Fantastic that you left another update, that is so helpful for people like me. I have had AF for around 8 years now too. When it was found I was told to take warfarin which I refused, so i was then made to take aspirin ‘or I wasn’t allowed to leave the Dr’s office’ Tis is what was said to me. So I took aspirin for some time until I began to read up on the risks of that too and that it just didn’t improve AF at all. I was sent the past two weeks to have an MOT by my new Dr and today to get the results from the cardiologist. He wasn’t impressed that i didn’t want to be given new drugs. He said he advises that I take them, AF won’t go away so I need to know the risk of stroke. I explained I was losing weight, on a plant based diet with of course wholefoods and that I had already dropped a lot of weight. He said it had nothing to do with weight, at any size if you have AF you can release blood clots. It sent me into a panic again, I know what I have read re plant based foods, magnesium ect but Dr’s don’t want to know. I also know that excerise, plantbased eating and getting good nights sleep and n stress are also huge factors. BUT the DR’s in the UK poo poo it.
        They ignore any other reason other than the heart is faulty here take pills. He cut me short and said ‘we can’t force you to take anything, but you’re going against advice’. That was that, end of consultation. So reading your post made me feel better because it gave me hope. I have such a long way to go and I’m afraid when you’re this huge everything takes ages to come off (I was over 450Lbs) & using OMAD (One meal a day) intermittent fasting, the weight began to come off. Losing 10% of my fat as its been said hasn’t made any of my chronic illnesses go as yet though or my AF as it was raging today and BP was high. But still, I am thankful to read your post, so thank you.

        1. Hi Betty, My last 3 years since switching to a WFPB, SOS free diet has improved my health to such an extent that I don’t want to risk having a surgical setback and waking up with a pace maker (50-50 risk) or that the surgery did nothing (30-40% risk). My docs say the same as you’re being told in the UK, but I don’t think they have the whole picture. I’m studying PEMF (pulsed electro magnetic frequency) machines and their utility with AFIB.
          There’s quite a lot of literature on the NIH website. It seems like being between a rock and a hard place, “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”, which is causing me to lean toward the “don’t” end of the spectrum. I’d say your AFIB is simply one of your many symptoms and that treating the underlying cause as you are doing (diet and lifestyle) is key. Have you checked out Dr Joel Fuhrman yet? Also, I recently kicked all caffeine (green/black tea, coffee, coco, etc) and have improved energy and quality of sleep.
          Best to you. Keep in touch. Ken

  2. I have been vegan 15 years and have recently started having problems with AFib. While I need to do some more experimentation, I am reasonably sure that MSG has triggered most of my episodes (mostly waking up with a racing or irregular heartbeat.)

    I’ve done a little reading and apparently MSG interferes with Cysteine and Taurine, which is believed to be the link between MSG and AFib.

    A little more reading and … dramatic pause … Taurine is only in animal products. Vegans have very low levels.

    Can someone comment on whether this is very likely to be what’s going on? The doctors I have access to aren’t terribly up-to-date on vegan nutrition.

    1. Peter G: I forwarded your question to our volunteer medical moderators. Due to the large volume of questions, they do not all get answered. But at least your question is in the pile. In the meantime, I thought I would mention the following just in case you do not get an answer. Well known and respected plant based doctor, Dr. Michael Klaper does phone consultations. It’s not free, but for something as serious as afib, it maybe worth doing to make sure you are talking to someone who is extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and hopefully would be able to tell you whether or not this is something to follow up on or even “we don’t know” would be a place for you to start. Good luck.

    2. Hi Peter, I’m one of the physician site moderators. Your research has probably identified the MSG you are consuming as a neurotoxin at higher levels of ingestion but some people can be highly sensitive to even small amount, which may be the case with you. Typically taurine deficiency is more of a problem for people with heart failure vs. a-fib and then it becomes a problem because as the heart is stressed as in heart failure it switches its primary mode of metabolism from the usual fatty acid break down to the use of carbohydrates as there is less work / damage to the myocardium from this method of metabolism. It is in this altered state of metabolism when the person may become taurine deficient as well as L-carnitine deficient. A published study that may shed more light on this and whether this is actually something you should be concerned about is here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19850206 At any rate you and probably everyone should be more judicious of the ingestion of MSG as it is a well documented neurotoxin that could certainly exacerbate your a-fib. I hope you find this helpful

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