Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a common heart rhythm disorder that causes an irregular and often rapid heart rate. While medications and procedures like ablation can help manage AFib, many patients wonder if adjusting their diet can also help prevent episodes. Here’s what the research says so far about the impact of diet on atrial fibrillation.
The potential role of inflammation
One theory behind the dietary impact on AFib points to inflammation. Some research indicates that inflammatory pathways may play a role in the development and progression of atrial fibrillation. Certain foods may increase inflammation, while other foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Minimizing inflammation through dietary changes could potentially lower AFib risk or reduce episodes in some patients.
Limiting alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine are two substances that have been most clearly linked to triggering AFib episodes in those prone to the condition. Consuming alcohol, especially in excess, can cause the heart to beat with an irregular rhythm. Caffeine can also cause palpitations and excitability that may increase AFib risk. An Atrial Fibrillation Specialist in Houston will likely recommend limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine to help manage AFib.
Adding more magnesium and potassium
Magnesium and potassium are two minerals that help regulate heart rhythms and muscle contractions. Some research indicates that low levels of magnesium and potassium may increase the likelihood of AFib. Eating foods high in these minerals, like leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, may help reduce episodes. Speak to your Atrial Fibrillation Specialist about your individual nutritional needs.
Trying a Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes produce, nuts, olive oil, fish, and whole grains while limiting red meat and saturated fats. Some studies have found that following a Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of developing AFib and reduce symptoms in those who already have the condition. The anti-inflammatory effects of the diet’s foods may be behind these benefits.
Losing weight if overweight
Being overweight puts extra strain on the heart and is linked to higher risks of heart disease, including atrial fibrillation. For those who are overweight, losing even a modest amount of weight can help reduce AFib episodes and severity. A balanced, low-calorie diet focused on produce, lean proteins, fiber-rich carbs, and healthy fats aids in weight loss efforts.
Avoiding extremely low-carb diets
Very low-carb diets have not been well-studied specifically in those with AFib. However, restricting carbs to under 50 grams per day may lead to ketosis, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances that could potentially impact heart rhythm. Moderately low-carb Mediterranean-style and DASH diets are likely safer options, according to most Atrial Fibrillation Specialists.
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption can help reduce AFib episodes in many patients.
- Eating foods rich in magnesium and potassium supports healthy heart rhythms.
- A Mediterranean diet high in produce, lean proteins, and anti-inflammatory fats may lower AFib risks.
- Losing weight if overweight and avoiding extremely restrictive diets are also recommended.
- Work with your Atrial Fibrillation Specialist to develop the right dietary changes for your individual health needs.
While research is still emerging, the diet choices you make can have an impact on your atrial fibrillation symptoms and progression. Partner with your doctor and registered dietitian to find the eating pattern that helps you best manage your AFib through lifestyle changes and feel your healthiest overall.