What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) occurs when the two smaller, upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly instead of rhythmically. This abnormal condition can allow blood clots to form inside the heart and later travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
Patients may take medications prescribed by their doctor to reduce the risk of blood clots or to regulate their heartbeat. Usually, a doctor may suggest dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce the complications of AFib.
What foods trigger atrial fibrillation?
Eating certain foods could trigger atrial fibrillation (AFib) in some patients. Patients respond differently to foods and other triggers, so it is important to keep a track of what may cause episodes of AFib. For this reason, it may be helpful to create your own AFib diet plan and discuss it with the physician. Below are a few common foods that can trigger AFib.
- High sugar foods: Consuming high sugar food can lead to obesity and high blood pressure as well. High blood pressure can trigger AFib episodes. Artificial sweeteners can be just as bad as or even worse than traditional sugar. It is usually recommended to slowly eliminate them from the diet.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can be a trigger for some people when it comes to AFib. Too much caffeine could increase the heart rate, which in turn might trigger AFib. Caffeine use for AFib patients has been controversial; some doctors always recommended strict abstinence. However, a recent study showed that coffee was possibly beneficial for AFib patients. Usually, a cup of coffee a day, as long as it does not appear to trigger any AFib episodes, is always okay. Limited consumption of coffee or tea is a healthier option than any soda.
- Alcohol: Alcohol has been a strong trigger for AFib, and alcohol induced AFib is called holiday heart syndrome. It refers to significant AFib episodes that usually happened around a holiday associated with binge drinking. However, for some people, even moderate drinking can lead to AFib episodes. Strict reduction in alcohol consumption can reduce the triggers of AFib.
- Foods with high sodium: Processed lunch meats may trigger AFib episodes. Eating one slice of processed lunch meat could serve up more than 1,000 mg of sodium. Excess salt in the diet can increase blood pressure. Increased blood pressure might trigger an AFib episode. Too much dietary salt makes managing symptoms challenging and may increase the chances of causing a stroke. Saturated foods such as pizza, canned soups, bread, fried foods, etc. may be avoided to reduce the chances of AFib.
- Tyramine: This amino acid is commonly found in aged cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, and gorgonzola, as well as pepperoni, salami, soybean, and snow peas. Tyramine can increase blood pressure and can trigger an AFib episode. Eliminating tyramine containing foods can improve the patient’s condition.
- Gluten: It is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s found most commonly in bread, pasta, condiments, and many packaged foods. For people who may be gluten-intolerant or have a wheat allergy, the body might respond to gluten or wheat consumption by causing inflammation in the body. The inflammation can then make the patient more susceptible to AFib symptoms.
- Grapefruit: Few compounds in grapefruit can cause the concentration of AFib medications in the bloodstream to spike. For example, if a patient takes an anticoagulant, such as Coumadin (Warfarin), eating grapefruit can make blood thinner than normal and put the patient at risk for bleeding. If patients take medications for arrhythmia, grapefruit can interfere with how they work to regulate the heart rhythm.
- Cranberry juice: Patients may need to avoid cranberry juice if they are on anticoagulant medications. Like grapefruit, cranberry juice can increase the amount of Warfarin circulating in the system and put the patient at risk for bleeding. Any type of fruit juice can increase blood sugar levels. It’s best to eat whole fruit instead of drinking juice.
- Asparagus and leafy green vegetables: Patients on anticoagulants may need to avoid eating or drinking foods or beverages that contain high levels of vitamin K, a nutrient that aids in blood clotting. Common sources of vitamin K in the diet include dark, leafy greens (collards, kale and spinach), certain vegetables (broccoli, asparagus and Brussels sprouts), and green tea. Doctors usually let the patients know if vitamin K or high-fiber foods make a good choice for their heart’s health.