Keeping your heart healthy is at or near the top of most people’s health goals. Heart (cardiovascular) disease is estimated to be the cause of 610,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. This works out to be 1 in every 4 deaths.
Luckily, lifestyle changes and diet play a huge role in decreasing risk factors for heart disease, such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease is a broad category that includes coronary artery disease (which can lead to heart attack), angina, cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmias.
We’re going to take a look at a specific kind of arrhythmia, which is when the heart is not beating at its normal rate, and natural ways to treat it.
Atrial fibrillation (A-fib or AF) is the most common type of heart arrhythmia, affecting up to 6.1 million Americans. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart are beating irregularly, and thus aren’t coordinated with the lower chambers. This affects blood flow, which is what causes A-fib symptoms.
A lot of people who have AF may not even notice it. That said, it often causes heart palpitations that can feel like a rapid pounding or fluttering, chest pain, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.
An episode of A-fib may last for a few minutes or hours and then go away, though it can be a condition that persists for a year or more, or may even become permanent.
A-fib symptoms can be quite alarming, but the condition itself is not usually life-threatening. It can, however, lead to complications, like blood clots, and can increase your risk of other serious cardiovascular conditions, including stroke and heart failure.
Treatments for A-fib involve a variety of surgical procedures or medications to restore your heartbeat to its normal rhythm and blood-thinners to prevent blood clots from forming. Natural Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation may include dietary supplements, exercise, and more.
Like other heart-related health conditions, there is also quite a bit that you can do in regards to your diet and lifestyle to minimize your risk for A-fib.
Inflammation and Heart Disease
One of the strategies to treat AF is to address a possible underlying cause: inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to atrial fibrillation as a marker than can predict an increased risk of developing the condition.
Normally, we associate inflammation with our immune system reacting to germs or viruses, like a cut that becomes red and swells, or a sore throat.
The kind of inflammation that affects heart disease is low-grade, chronic inflammation. This occurs when there are substances in the body those triggers an immune response over a long period of time. These substances can come from your environment, such as cigarette smoke and other toxins, from your diet, and from your body itself, like from excess fat cells.
Inflammation in the arteries is especially dangerous because it can lead to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaque that can cause blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.
Next up are some lifestyle and diet changes that you can make to reduce inflammation and your risk for AF.
First, let’s take a look at foods that promote inflammation. You’ll want to limit or avoid these foods as much as possible:
- Refined oils, like corn and soybean
- Added and refined sugars and sugary drinks
- Refined carbohydrates
- Trans fats
- Pasteurized dairy
- Conventionally-raised meat, especially red meat and processed meat
In a convenient twist of fate, foods that cause inflammation are also ones that are, at least in excess, bad for your health. Reversely, many anti-inflammatory foods also promote weight loss. This is important not only for your overall health, but because obesity is a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease, including atrial fibrillation.
Anti-inflammatory foods often contain high levels of antioxidants, which help fight against cell damage. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as berries, tomatoes, and peppers, are good sources of antioxidants, as are dark leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard.
Having the right kinds of fats in your diet can also help fight inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fight inflammation and reduce your risk of obesity and heart disease.
The most well-known source of omega-3s is fatty fish, like salmon or mackerel. Fish or krill oil is a quick and easy way to add omega-3s into your diet. They’re both widely available in pill and liquid form.
When looking for an omega-3 supplement, keep in mind that krill oil may be the better option because studies have shown that it may be more effective in lower doses than fish oil.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, omega-3s can be found in plant sources, like hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds.
Turmeric is a bright yellow, earthy spice that is traditionally used in Indian and Asian foods like curry. It contains curcumin, which is a strong anti-inflammatory as well as a powerful antioxidant.
If you don’t like the taste of turmeric, you can still get its health benefits from a turmeric or curcumin supplement.
Alcohol and caffeine are both contributors to AF, so it’s advised to at least avoid consuming either one in excess.
Stress can also increase your risk of heart disease and AF.
Some pointers to help reduce your stress levels include:
- Meditation or prayer
- Exercise (consult your doctor for an exercise plan that’s right for you, especially if you have AF)
- Quit smoking
- Set aside time for yourself or to do something creative
- Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep
Managing your stress is one of those things that are often easier said than done, but taking on even just one of the stress-reducing tips can make a difference.
The Bottom Line
In addition to regular checkups with your doctor and any medications that he or she might prescribe, making a few simple but powerful lifestyle and diet changes can help treat atrial fibrillation and reduce your risk for serious heart problems.
Eliminating inflammatory foods and increasing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods not only treat a possible underlying cause of AF, but can also help you to lose weight, further reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease.