I have personally witnessed improvements in the duration and frequency of the common abnormal heart rhythm, atrial fibrillation, or A Fib, about a dozen times. (This discussion only applies to intermittent A Fib, not chronic, 24-hour-a-day A Fib; the latter condition does not appear to be influenced by diet, as it is a much more advanced situation.) Someone with, say, 4 or 5 10-minute long episodes per week, for instance, can experience a marked reduction in the frequency and duration of episodes, sometimes complete elimination.
Relief from A Fib is a truly wonderful thing because it spares you from the risk for stroke that develops from stagnation of blood that develops in the left atrium if the rhythm persists for more than a few hours — the fibrillating atria send out rapid (about 300 beats per minute) electrical signals, but they are essentially at a physical standstill. Strokes from A Fib are generally large, devastating strokes.
The drugs are also far from perfect and filled with side-effects. Metoprolol, for instance, to reduce episodes and slow the heart rate, increases risk for diabetes by 30% and blocks your ability to lose weight. The true anti-arrhythmic drugs for A Fib, such as sotalol, flecainide, disopyramide, Tikosyn, and amiodarone, are quite dangerous; they need to be initiated in the hospital while being monitored, as there are occasional fatal rhythm complications of their use (“pro arrhythmia”), not to mention long-term difficulties.
Here is Pearl’s story of fairly dramatic improvement in A Fib.
This does not prove that all people with intermittent A Fib will obtain relief. But I share this as a tantalizing possibility that it may be possible that, the longer you are wheat- and gluten-free, the lower your long-term potential for A Fib may be.
“I am 75 years old and have suffered atrial fibrillation since 2008, getting increasingly worse every year. Almost none of the recommended medications helped, and the ones that did I had to discontinue due to serious side-effects. I even underwent an ablation, but it didn’t help. This past November, my symptoms got so bad that my doctors recommended that I undergo an AV Node Ablation, which would make me entirely pacemaker dependent.
All the while, my daughter has been encouraging me to give up wheat and see if I saw any improvement. But I always answered “I hardly eat any wheat. Maybe a slice of bread a day.” But she encouraged me to try going 100% anyway, stating that a “renowned heart doctor had seen many improvements in his patients by eliminating wheat.”
So on Jan 1, 2014, I took the plunge and went entirely gluten-free, thinking “What’s to lose, maybe I’ll even lose some weight?”
On January 2nd, I had my standard pacemaker interrogation. It showed that, from October 3, 2013 through Jan 2, 2014 I had gone in and out of high-rate episodes [A Fib] 2,944 times in 3 months, at heart rates as high as 208 bpm, the longest lasting 03:50. I could feel most of these episodes over those 3 months, and they were extremely scary. I was breathless and had very little energy to do anything. I was very seriously considering having the surgery.
On Jan. 2, I told my heart doctor I went gluten-free. He replied “Now just what do you expect to accomplish by that?”
But, interestingly, it seemed it did me good almost immediately! From that day on, until my next pacemaker interrogation, I only felt 1, yes just 1 episode of A-fib! So I was convinced that eliminating wheat was helping, but I couldn’t know for certain until I had my next pacemaker interrogation, which I just had on May 1, 2014.
The interrogation on May 1 showed that, between Jan 2 and May 1, 2014, I had only 185 high-rate episodes in 4 months, verses the 2,944 episodes in the 3 months prior.
This is just amazing to me. The only change I made was going gluten-free. I am not scheduled to see my heart Dr. until August; it will be interesting to note his reaction.”
Why might wheat elimination yield a reduction in A Fib? As there are no formal explorations of this phenomenon, I can only speculate. Could it work through some reduction in inflammatory signals or reduction in glycation? Is it a consequence of blood-borne wheat germ agglutinin? Might gliadin-derived opiate peptides play a role?
I don’t know. Having spent a couple of years in A Fib research during my cardiovascular training fellowship many years ago, I cannot conceive of just how a change in electrical activity can be achieved by this lifestyle change.
Nonetheless, wheat- and gluten-elimination do indeed seem to exert some pretty darned substantial effects on A Fib, as Pearl’s experience suggests. And, as I often remind people, NOTHING is lost in trying!