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Arrhythmias: Foods That Affect Heart Rate


Topic Overview

Certain types of foods tend to aggravate certain arrhythmias, both bradycardias and tachycardias. As with many other cardiac conditions, arrhythmias are easier to manage if you eat a balanced diet. Two dietary changes you should make after being diagnosed with an arrhythmia are described below:

  1. You should avoid specific substances that can trigger an episode of the irregular heart rhythm.
  2. To keep your heart healthy and avoid a general worsening of your condition, you should eat a balanced diet of low-sodium and low-fat foods.

Avoiding foods known to aggravate arrhythmias

Eating certain foods may provoke your arrhythmia. Be aware of which substances have an effect on your arrhythmia and how to avoid them. In general, small amounts of any food will not trigger an arrhythmia. But in larger quantities, some foods can aggravate your heart and cause your arrhythmia to occur or get worse. Be aware of the foods listed below, as they may trigger your arrhythmia. In general, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about your diet. You may want to specifically bring up the items in the table below.

Foods to avoid if you have an arrhythmia

Food or substance

How it aggravates your arrhythmia

Alcohol
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Liquor
Alcohol can trigger arrhythmias in some people.
Caffeine
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Some soft drinks
Caffeine is a stimulant, which speeds up your heart rate. Caffeine can trigger arrhythmias in some people.

Alcohol

Alcohol can cause arrhythmias in people with normal hearts and can cause heart conditions that result in arrhythmias. People who drink heavily can develop a weak heart (alcoholic cardiomyopathy). When this occurs, they can have various arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and ventricular tachycardia. The heart may return to normal if the person stops drinking, and the risk of recurrent arrhythmias will decrease. Even in individuals who have a normal heart, alcohol can cause arrhythmias. Alcohol can directly injure heart cells and cause extra heartbeats and supraventricular tachycardias. Atrial fibrillation may occur after a drinking binge. People with heart disease or prior arrhythmias need to avoid excessive alcohol use, and most would benefit from complete avoidance of alcohol.

Caffeine

The most common example of a food that triggers arrhythmias is caffeine. Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, colas, various other soft drinks, and chocolate. People with almost any kind of rapid arrhythmia and palpitations from any cause tend to have more frequent arrhythmias and palpitations after ingesting caffeine. So individuals with fast arrhythmias should avoid caffeine-containing foods. Caffeine can make symptoms such as palpitations stronger and more noticeable. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it speeds up your heart rate, making your heart beat even faster and making symptoms like chest pain or lightheadedness worse. In some cases, large amounts of caffeine can even trigger a new episode of an arrhythmia by irritating your heart's conduction system.

Fad diets: Use extra caution!

Many weight-loss diets can be harmful to your heart if you have an arrhythmia. In particular, fad diets such as liquid-based programs or high-protein regimens can affect the concentrations of electrolytes in your bloodstream. This can, in turn, cause problems with your heart's electrical system, which relies on electrolytes to function properly. If you have experienced an arrhythmia in the past, you should be cautious of fad diets. In order to avoid recurrences of your arrhythmia, always check with your doctor before making drastic changes to your eating habits.

Herbal remedies

When taken at higher levels, ephedra—an herb used by some people for cold and allergy symptoms and to improve sports performance—can cause drastic increases in blood pressure, as well as cardiac arrhythmias. Ephedra, also called ma huang, has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some deaths.

Be aware of what you are eating

People with heart failure commonly have arrhythmias, and the arrhythmias may occur more frequently if the heart failure gets worse. By limiting salt and excessive fluid intake, the heart failure will be better controlled and the arrhythmias may occur less frequently.

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