• Michelle Routhenstein, MS RD CDE CDN

The Afib Diet: How to Prevent Afib Attacks Naturally

Updated: Mar 29


What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm disorder where the atria (upper chambers of the heart) beat out of rhythm with the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart), resulting in an irregular heartbeat called ‘fibrillation’. This may cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or skip beats, and consequently, the heart is unable to pump blood as efficiently as it should.

AFib affects up to 6 million adults in the United States, approximately 34 million people worldwide, and is the most prevalent heart arrhythmia. Many people with AFib are at a higher risk of death and disability due to stroke and heart failure.



Afib symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feeling tired or weak

  • Chest pain

  • Drop in blood pressure

  • Light-headedness or confusion

  • Pounding or fluttering feeling in the chest (palpitations)

  • Irregular pulse


Who is at risk?

There are many risk factors associated with AFib, including:

  • Advancing age

  • Stress

  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Sleep apnea

  • Serious illness or infection

  • Excessive use of alcohol or stimulants

  • Hyperthyroidism


THE AFIB DIET: why we should look to treating this disease naturally


Medications used for AFib are often ineffective in treating the disease, or preventing its recurrence. This is not to say to stop taking your medications, but to emphasize the importance of changing your lifestyle and adhering to an afib diet to prevent Afib attacks.


What foods to AVOID to prevent Afib attacks:


A low-carbohydrate diet

Low-carbohydrate diets (i.e., keto, LCHF, paleo) which restrict carbohydrate intake, have gained an incredible amount of popularity due to their ability to produce short-term weight loss. However, restricting carbohydrates long-term is not recommended, especially in regards to its impact on cardiovascular disease.


One large scale study of more than 13,000 participants, with a follow-up period of 22.4 years, showed low-carb diets increased risk of AFib, irrespective of the kind of fat or protein consumed when replacing the carbohydrate.


The reason why this is speculated is because low-carb diets are generally reduced in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (including the many vitamins they contain), which promote an anti-inflammatory profile. The association between inflammation and AFib is well known, so reducing intake of these anti-inflammatory foods may increase risk of Afib attacks.


A low-carb diet, also referred to as a keto Afib diet, also contains high levels of fat and protein which may trigger oxidative stress, another known risk factor for AFib.


Alcohol

There have been many studies showing a strong relationship between high amounts of alcohol consumption and incidence of Afib. The Framingham Heart Study found a significant link between moderate-to-heavy alcohol intake (≥3 drinks per day) and an increased risk of AFib in men. In addition to this, researchers found that with each additional standard drink, risk of AFib increased by 8%.


Excess sodium (salt)

Research has now found that excess sodium not only raises blood pressure and multiplies your risk of heart attack and stroke, it significantly increases the risk of AFib, regardless of age, weight or blood pressure. To prevent Afib attacks, limit your intake to 1500mg per day and be mindful of hidden sources of sodium.


What you should INCLUDE in your diet to prevent Afib attacks:


Magnesium

Magnesium is an electrolyte found in the human body and is important for maintaining a steady heartbeat, normal blood pressure and helping muscles function correctly. In the Framingham Heart Study, individuals with the lowest consumption of Magnesium were 50% more likely to develop Afib compared to individuals who had moderate to high consumption of Magnesium.⁣ It is difficult to obtain adequate levels of Magnesium if you don't plan it thoroughly into your Afib diet. Here are a couple examples of foods with rich sources of Magnesium.


Magnesium also influences the movements of potassium, sodium and calcium across cell membranes. Studies show that potassium in muscles will not normalize unless magnesium is sufficient. Low levels of Potassium have been shown to increase risk of A. fib as well.⁣


Potassium

Like magnesium, potassium is also an electrolyte and plays a key role in helping prevent AFib. More than 98% of Americans are potassium deficient; the standard American diet is usually lacking in sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables, and most natural potassium comes from plant-based foods. In a study of more than 4,000 participants, low levels of potassium was associated with a significantly higher risk of AFib.


Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (found predominantly in fish) have long been associated with improved heart health. Omega-3s have been found to prevent cardiovascular disease by improving plasma lipids and blood pressure, as well as decreasing the risk of sudden death. When it comes to omega-3 and AFib, studies initially reported contradictory results. However, recent studies support the likelihood that omega-3s could be valuable for AFib sufferers as they reduce inflammation and suppress abnormal heart rhythms. These effects not only reduce the risk of AFib but improve symptoms overall.


Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

The PREDIMED trial showed that a diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) resulted in a significant 38% reduction in the risk of AFib. EVOO could be found to decrease the inflammatory response found in those with AFib. Secondly, the antioxidant effects of EVOO aid in reducing the oxidative stress known to play a role in the development of AFib.


Weight loss and Afib

A recent study reported a six-fold greater likelihood of survival in AFib patients who lost more than 10% of their body weight, compared to those lost less than 10%. The same study also showed that sustaining this weight loss resulted in a significant maintenance of regular heart rhythm.


What should I do now?

A healthy diet is not only key to preventing and improving Afib risk, it’s necessary for a long and healthy life. I understand that changing your diet can be extremely challenging, and the correct instruction and counseling are critical for long term success.


I am a Preventive Cardiology dietitian who specializes in heart diseases such as Afib. I have helped thousands of individuals with Afib eliminate their Afib attacks and feel better than ever before. I would love to help you by creating a personalized plan to prevent Afib attacks naturally through science based recommendations.


Book a 15 minute complimentary call to see if we would be a good fit!



In Health & Happiness,

Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN

Preventive Cardiology Dietitian

Owner of Entirely Nourished, LLC

P: (646) 979-0328

A: 276 Fifth Avenue, Suite 704, New York NY 10001

E: Michelle@EntirelyNourished.com http://www.entirelynourished.com 

Instagram: Heart.Health.Nutritionist








** This article is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for individualized medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health.



References


Aleong RG, Sandhu A. Does Coffee Reduce the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation?. J Am Heart Assoc. 2019 Aug 6;8(15):e012862. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012862. Epub 2019 Aug 5. PubMed PMID: 31378125; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6761661.


Colussi G, Catena C, Fagotto V, Darsiè D, Brosolo G, Bertin N, Sechi LA. Atrial fibrillation and its complications in arterial hypertension: The potential preventive role of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(12):1937-1948. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1434126. Epub 2018 Feb 27. Review. PubMed PMID: 29381383.

Irregular heartbeat and stroke prevention. (2014). Retrieved 20 January 2020, from https://www.aan.com/Guidelines/home/GetGuidelineContent/636


Krijthe BP, Heeringa J, Kors JA, Hofman A, Franco OH, Witteman JC, Stricker BH. Serum potassium levels and the risk of atrial fibrillation: the Rotterdam Study. Int J Cardiol. 2013 Oct 15;168(6):5411-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2013.08.048. Epub 2013 Aug 24. PubMed PMID: 24012173.


Martínez-González MÁ, Toledo E, Arós F, Fiol M, Corella D, Salas-Salvadó J, Ros E, Covas MI, Fernández-Crehuet J, Lapetra J, Muñoz MA, Fitó M, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Sorlí JV, Babio N, Buil-Cosiales P, Ruiz-Gutierrez V, Estruch R, Alonso A. Extravirgin olive oil consumption reduces risk of atrial fibrillation: the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial. Circulation. 2014 Jul 1;130(1):18-26. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.006921. Epub 2014 Apr 30. PubMed PMID: 24787471.


Pääkkö TJW, Perkiömäki JS, Silaste ML, Bloigu R, Huikuri HV, Antero Kesäniemi Y, Ukkola OH. Dietary sodium intake is associated with long-term risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation. Ann Med. 2018 Dec;50(8):694-703. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2018.1546054. Epub 2018 Nov 23. PubMed PMID: 30442022.


Storz MA, Helle P. Atrial fibrillation risk factor management with a plant-based diet: A review. J Arrhythm. 2019 Dec;35(6):781-788. doi: 10.1002/joa3.12254. eCollection 2019 Dec. Review. PubMed PMID: 31844466; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6898539.


Tribulova N, Szeiffova Bacova B, Egan Benova T, Knezl V, Barancik M, Slezak J. Omega-3 Index and Anti-Arrhythmic Potential of Omega-3 PUFAs. Nutrients. 2017 Oct 30;9(11). doi: 10.3390/nu9111191. Review. PubMed PMID: 29084142; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5707663.


Zhang S, Zhuang X, Lin X, Zhong X, Zhou H, Sun X, Xiong Z, Huang Y, Fan Y, Guo Y, Du Z, Liao X. Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Risk of Incident Atrial Fibrillation: A Prospective Cohort Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2019 May 7;8(9):e011955. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.011955. PubMed PMID: 31020911; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6512089.

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