Atrial Fibrillation: Causes And Foods That Reduce The Risk

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib or AF, is a common type of cardiac arrhythmia that doctors across the world see in their practices. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib.1 It is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other cardiac complications.

What Is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation causes the heart to beat irregularly

In a healthy person, under normal circumstances, the heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In the case of atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers of the heart called the atria beats irregularly (quivers) out of coordination with the two lower chambers called the ventricles, instead of beating effectively to pump blood into the ventricles.

The occurrence of atrial fibrillation is strongly associated with the person’s age. According to statistics, AFib occurs rarely in less than 1 percent of adults under the age of 50. But, it is

known to occur in 9 percent of people who are over 80 years of age.

What Causes AFib?

Inflammation, fibrosis, and increased pressure in the atrial chambers can cause AFib

Atrial fibrillation may be related to changes that occur within the atrial muscle, mainly inflammation, fibrosis, and increased pressure in the atrial chambers. These changes can interfere with the way atrial tissues handle the electrical impulses of the heart, resulting in atrial fibrillation.

One condition that causes these disruptive changes in atrial tissue is atrial fibrillation itself. Once atrial fibrillation occurs, it is highly possible that it may recur and worsen over time. This is one reason atrial fibrillation is considered as a progressive problem, with episodes slowly occurring more often and lasting longer with time. Many health conditions, both cardiac and non-cardiac, may increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

Cardiac Conditions Associated With AFib

Chronic hypertension is one of the cardiac conditions associated with AFib

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Most cardiac diseases can increase the stress on atrial tissue and cause the kinds of inflammation and fibrosis associated with atrial fibrillation. The heart problems that are most often associated with atrial fibrillation include,

  • Valvular heart disease (especially rheumatic heart disease)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Sinus node disease
  • Other cardiac arrhythmias (especially supraventricular tachycardia (SVT))
  • Chronic hypertension

Non-Cardiac Conditions Associated With AFib

Diabetes is one of the non-cardiac conditions associated with AFib

Various non-cardiac medical conditions that greatly heighten the risk of developing atrial fibrillation include,

  • Pulmonary embolus
  • Pneumonia
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Dysautonomia
  • Cardiac surgery

How To Prevent AFib

Adopting a heart-healthy diet is one way to prevent atrial fibrillation

Though cardiac specialists consider AFib as something that occurs in some people for no particular reason, you can still take some precautionary measures to reduce the risk of AFib. Most of the things you can do

to reduce your risk of AFib are the same things you should be doing to reduce your cardiovascular risk in general.

The measures you adopt to avoid coronary artery disease, heart failure, and hypertensive heart disease, will also help in lowering your risk for diabetes, sleep apnea, obesity, pulmonary embolus, and cardiac surgery. Avoiding all these conditions can eliminate some of the most powerful risk factors for AFib.

Foods To Avoid To Reduce Risk Of AFib

A Mediterranean-style diet promotes cardiovascular health

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption must be avoided. Regular exercise to fight obesity and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control are crucial to reducing AFib risk. A heart-healthy diet, especially a Mediterranean-style diet, promotes cardiovascular health. Consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids greatly reduces your risk of AFib. Here are some foods that are best avoided.

Salty Foods

Avoiding excessive salt intake is one way to prevent AFib

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Excessive salt intake increases the burden on your heart and prevents the easy flow of blood. A high-salt diet can magnify your risk of atrial fibrillation. Avoid eating salty foods such as canned foods, frozen meals, crackers, soy sauce, and pretzels. Instead, consume whole and natural foods that provide enough sodium and consider low-sodium seasoning alternatives like natural herbs.

Sugary Sweets

Sugary foods must be avoided to prevent AFib

Sweets, such as pastries, cakes, cookies, and candies are high in calories and low in fiber and nutrients. The University of Maryland Medical Center has found that foods, which contain hydrogenated vegetable oil may increase your risk for stroke. Reduce the quantity of sugar in your beverages and other foods and consume fresh or frozen fruits.

Refined Grains

Avoid foods made from refined grains to prevent AFib

Experts recommend consuming fiber-rich foods to prevent

strokes. Avoid refined grains as they are low in protein, fiber, and nutrients. Whole grains help in weight control, which is crucial for protection against cardiovascular diseases. Consider using whole grains, such as oats, barley, and brown rice, instead of refined grain products, such as white bread, instant rice, enriched pasta and baked goods made with white or baking flour.

Fatty Meats And Dairy Products

Meat and dairy products high in saturated fats and cholesterol must be avoided

A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, which tends to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol can cause many cardiovascular problems including atrial fibrillation. Consume lean protein sources, such as beans, lentils, and fish, over fatty meats and dairy products. Meats especially high in fat include organ meats, lamb, dark-meat poultry, beef, sausage, bacon, and fried chicken. Avoid high-fat dairy products like whole milk, heavy cream, ice cream and full-fat cheese.

Other Risk Factors For AFib

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of AFib

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  • Genetic Factors: The genetic contribution to this arrhythmia is complex and a history of atrial fibrillation in a close relative considerably increases your risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
  • High Birth Weight: Babies with a higher than normal birth weight appear to have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • Alcohol: Although moderate alcohol consumption does not generally trigger atrial fibrillation, binge drinking has a significant effect. Often, AFib occurs in drinkers after a heavy drinking session and is referred to as a “holiday heart.”
  • Air Pollution: The concentration of particulate air pollution is associated with a higher risk of AFib.
  • Obesity: Medically obese (people whose BMI is greater than 30 kg/m2) persons have a higher risk of AFib than those whose BMI is below 25. Obesity can elevate left atrial pressures and increase pericardial fat, both of which are thought to contribute to obesity-associated atrial fibrillation.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle can make people vulnerable to atrial fibrillation. A strict lifestyle modification program that aids weight loss and physical conditioning can reduce (and may even eliminate) the risk of subsequent
    atrial fibrillation.