I have covered the topic of irregular heartbeats like atrial fibrillation and what you can do to fix the problem in previous articles.
A visit to your cardiologist will leave you with instructions to cut caffeine intake and stress and likely a prescription for a beta blocker and maybe a blood thinner if there is a higher risk of stroke. Ironically, the beta blocker will increase your risk of stroke (the very thing we’re trying to prevent) and diabetes (which can make a-fib worse).
At the heart of the problem is the heartbeat regulating cells firing before they are supposed to. It is an inability to STOP a heartbeat. The second heartbeat essentially begins in the middle of the first, throwing off the rhythm. The problem is that this can create turbulence in blood flow and turbulence can lead to a blood clot forming and being released towards the brain.
Luckily, there are ways to help your heart beat the way it is supposed to. The first approach involves my favorite organelle, the mitochondria. Improve the amount of energy available to the cells of your heart and they can beat when they are supposed to beat. They will have the energy to hold off from firing too early.
Another way to help your irregular heartbeat is to improve the health of your cell membrane. Each and every cell in your body has a cell membrane. The job of the cell membrane is to create a border between “inside” and “outside” of the cell. That way, stuff that is supposed to get in gets in and stuff that is not supposed to get in is kept out.
This creation of a boundary is incredibly important for a cell (brain cells as well as heart rhythm cells) to fire when it is supposed to fire and NOT fire when it is supposed to.
And this cell membrane is made up of fats. You can literally choose how well your heart and brain cells fire by the dietary choices you make. Good, healthy fats and things work the way they are supposed to. Eat crap and low quality fats and it can wreak havoc on cell function.
This particular study reinforces just how solid this relationship is.
The Mediterranean diet is known for its intake of healthy fats, most notably from olive oil, fish and nuts. These fats (provided it’s wild caught fish and raw nuts) will contribute to healthy cell membranes and better cell function. In this study, they divided 6705 participants who did not have atrial fibrillation into 3 diet groups:
- Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil,
- Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts.
- Advice to follow a low-fat diet.
Over the course of an average of 4.7 years, the group was observed to see if anyone developed atrial fibrillation. Here’s how the diets played out:
- The Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil cut the risk of developing AFib by 38%.
- The Mediterranean diet with nuts cut risk 11% compared to the control diet.
While this is not the end-answer for lowering your risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, but the types of fat in your diet clearly play a role. Combine this with stress management, exercise and a lower-calorie, higher phytonutrient diet and it’s going to be a stronger effect.
The take home message is that irregular heartbeats CAN and should be managed with lifestyle choices. It is a sign that something is wrong with the cells of your heart that needs to get fixed. Medications in no way fix the underlying problem.