We are truly witnessing an epidemic in atrial fibrillation (“A-fib”). In fact, one in four adults in the U.S. now will experience at least one episode of A-fib in their lifetime. Here are three tips I often share with my patients to help prevent or reverse A-fib.
We are truly witnessing an epidemic in atrial fibrillation
(“A-fib”). In fact, one in four adults
in the U.S. now will experience at least one episode of A-fib in their lifetime.
What is atrial
fibrillation? A-fib is the most
common heart rhythm abnormality. Typically, the heart beat very rapid and chaotic which can lead to chest
discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.
Why should we worry
about atrial fibrillation? The
biggest worry with A-fib is that it increases the risk of stroke five fold,
doubles the risk of heart failure, doubles the risk of premature death, and
doubles the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease! The key to preventing these long-term complications
is to maintain normal rhythm.
What causes atrial
fibrillation? Certainly genetics
plays a role but the big three causes of A-fib are age, high blood pressure,
and obesity. Most cases of A-fib, just
like other forms of heart disease, are completely preventable. Indeed, studies have shown that 80% of heart
disease is totally preventable. While we can’t do anything about our age or
genetics, we can take control of our lifestyles and make sure our blood
pressure is under control and that we maintain an ideal body weight. As two-thirds of all Americans are now
overweight is it any wonder why atrial fibrillation has become so
commonplace. It should be noted that
sleep apnea is also a big cause of A-fib. However, for most patients, sleep apnea is just a consequence of
obesity. If we can lose the weight the
sleep apnea will likely go away as well.
What should we do if
we have atrial fibrillation? The
most critical thing to do is to make sure we are protected against having a
stroke. Patients with A-fib and multiple
risk factors for stroke will need to be treated with a potent blood
thinner. For those without multiple
additional risk factors for stroke an aspirin may be enough.
Medications, shocking the heart back into rhythm, or even a
procedure to potentially cure atrial fibrillation, called a catheter ablation,
may be necessary. Recently, we published a large study of thousands and
thousands of patients at Intermountain Healthcare where we showed for the first
time that an outpatient catheter ablation procedure for atrial fibrillation was
not only able to eliminate A-fib in most patients but was also able to
eliminate the increased risk of death, strokes, and dementia/Alzheimer’s
Disease that comes from A-fib.
Certainly, with A-fib, an ounce of prevention is definitely
worth a pound of cure! I have listed
below 3 tips to prevent or even reverse atrial fibrillation. In giving these tips, I am assuming that you
are not smoking, as smoking is the number one cause of preventable heart
According to the American Heart
Association, only 1/3 of adults get “enough” physical activity which is defined
as 150 minutes each week of at least moderate activity—that is just a mere 21
minutes each day. We also have to move throughout the day.
A recently published study showed that sitting more than 3
hours a day shortens our life by 2 years. Being physically active will significantly
lower our blood pressure and is a critical component of weight loss both of
which are critical to preventing or reversing A-fib!
Thus, for my patients I now recommend taking 10,000 steps a
day and exercising for 30 minutes each day in addition to the 10,000
steps. Even cardiologists need to get
moving more as the average cardiologist only takes about 6,000 steps a day. Just taking 10,000 steps per day, as measured
by a pedometer, has been shown to result in about a 5-pound weight loss,
without dieting, and a 4-point reduction in your blood pressure.
At least a moderate level of exercise on most days has been
shown to result it a 6-pound weight loss,
once again without dieting, and a 6-point drop in blood pressure.
You could not pick a better recipe
for high blood pressure and obesity than processed foods. I would define processed foods as any food
item that is already prepared whether it comes in a box, bakery container, soda
can, soup can, jar, frozen dinner or pizza, salad dressing bottle, or 99% of
what you can eat at restaurants or fast food places.
Processed foods are packed with
salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. You
have to read the labels. I recently
looked at a label of “healthy” whole wheat bread. I could not believe my eyes; two slices of this
“healthy” bread had 500 mg of sodium and 12 grams of sugar! It is a mystery why food manufactures feel
that they need to add huge quantities of salt and 3 teaspoons of sugar to two
slices of “healthy” whole wheat bread (1 teaspoon equals 4 g of sugar)!
Moreover, these foods have been
shown to be highly addictive. The processed food industry knows this and
these addictions lead to huge corporate profits. We need to get back to the basics and only
purchase “real food” and then prepare our own food fresh!
- Focus on
a Plant Based Diet and Fish!
If we can focus our diets on fresh
whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans, and fish we
will dramatically reduce the salt in our diets and our we will definitely lose
weight. Indeed, studies have shown that
if we can eat more of these items in our diet our weight will drop an average
of 7 pounds without even dieting and our blood pressure will drop 11 points. In
addition, this type of a diet has been shown to help prevent heart disease,
cancer, dementia, and significantly prolong life!
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