Arrhythmia is the term used for irregular heartbeats and occurs when the nerves that regulate the contraction of the heart go awry. There are differing types of this condition such as atrial fibrillation that can be upsetting but not serious and ventricular fibrillation which is deadly. Disease of the heart muscle or the coronary arteries can be the cause of the heart becoming out of sync but also a mineral imbalance interferes with the heart’s normal nerve function. There are two important minerals that are used in nutritional therapy for arrhythmia: magnesium and potassium. The nerve cells use these minerals to fire off messages and a deficiency in either one of them can cause life-threatening problems.
Doctors have known for a long time how important potassium is to maintain a healthy heart. The amount a person should be taking is dependent on their blood levels of this mineral. Too much can be as harmful as too little. Potassium levels are regulated in the kidneys and people who become so potassium deficient that they then suffer heart arrhythmia have something interfering with their kidneys. People who are alcoholic or who take thiazide diuretics or digitalis or have poor functioning kidneys often become low in potassium. To get essential potassium levels into a normal diet means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and drinking fruit juices.
Magnesium can save lives when treating certain types of arrhythmia. In one report it was found that the risk of developing fatal ventricular arrhythmia was reduced by over fifty per cent in people with heart failure who received high intravenous doses of magnesium compared with those who did not receive it. This is incredibly important because ventricular arrhythmia can lead to ventricular fibrillation which can cause sudden deaths.
People with a magnesium deficiency are more common than you would think. Sometimes a deficiency in this mineral can be triggered by the very drugs that are supposed to treat heart problems! If you are suffering with arrhythmia talk to your doctor about taking supplements as your blood levels will need to be tested. Magnesium is considered a reasonably safe mineral but even so you must consult your doctor before taking any supplement form if you have kidney and/or heart problems. The wrong dosage could cause your heart or breathing to slow down too much. In terms of getting high levels of magnesium into your diet eat foods like nuts, un-milled grains, legumes, bananas and green vegetables.
As well as potassium and magnesium playing essential roles in regulating your heartbeat there are other dietary requirements to consider if you want to stick to an anti-arrhythmia diet. Eat lots of fish oil so you are getting your omega-3 fatty acids as these can help reduce the risk of fatal heart arrhythmia sometimes linked to heart attack. Eat salmon or mackerel a few times a week and if you want to use supplements consult your doctor first! More than three cups of coffee per day can aggravate any heartbeat irregularities so stick to herbal teas as much as you can. Avoid alcohol! The evidence that abusing alcohol heightens the risk of heartbeat irregularities and causing sudden and unexpected death is concrete. Even moderately drinking, say one or two drinks a day increases the risks by diminishing your body’s levels of magnesium and potassium. It is important to allow your doctor to monitor you so provide him with a diary of what you eat and drink as not every person with arrhythmia has to stop drinking alcohol completely.
To be clear, if you have heart arrhythmia you should be in the care and under supervision of your doctor. Mineral supplements should only be taken with the advice of your doctor who will carefully monitor your blood levels. If you have problems with your kidneys you should not take magnesium supplements without first consulting your doctor. For those who suffer with diabetes or kidney disease or those who are taking certain medicines (like potassium-sparing diuretics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ACE inhibitors and heart medications such as heparin) should not take potassium supplements.
By Eirian Hallinan