This was originally written by Robert Ellis, the former owner of this site.
My experience with atrial fibrillation has taught me a number of things about health care and healing. These are some of the general principles, or lessons I have learned thus far. For my recommendations on managing atrial fibrillation, see Recommendations.
Don’t ignore your symptoms
When my symptoms began, I dismissed them. Stress, I thought. Something I ate. Even when my episodes became more frequent, I was cavalier about seeing my doctor. I could almost certainly have avoided my trips to the emergency room if I had paid attention to my symptoms and taken action sooner. If you have symptoms, don’t wait. See your doctor as soon as possible and get a diagnosis. Not only can the symptoms of atrial fibrillation be associated with more serious health issues, but leaving your atrial fibrillation untreated can make you more susceptible to future episodes.
If you don’t know what’s going on in your body, it’s better to be safe than sorry. See your doctor.
Doctors are not the final answer
While I have the utmost respect for my doctors, I quickly came to the conclusion that they couldn’t be the last word on my condition. Doctors have a natural bias toward pharmaceutical and surgical interventions and little knowledge or enthusiasm for alternatives. Listen to your physician, but don’t let them prevent you from exploring other options.
Take responsibility for your own health
This follows from the last point. Your doctor knows a lot, but it’s your life. Ultimately, you will have the make the decisions about your treatment and live with the consequences of your choices. There are many options that are worth exploring that your doctor won’t tell you about. I quickly learned that if I didn’t want to take drugs or entertain the possibility of an ablation (a medical procedure that destroys areas of the heart responsible for causing abnormal heartbeats), I would be on my own. I pursued other methods for managing my atrial fibrillation and that’s how I found the most relief.
Avoid drugs whenever possible
I’m not advocating that you ignore your doctor’s advice, but always ask if there are other options. Almost all (if not all) drugs have potential side effects (many vitamins, herbs, and supplements can have side effects, too). Many of these effects are not fully understood when drugs are prescribed (consider the case of Fosamax, an osteoporosis drug now linked to atrial fibrillation). Once you begin taking medications, you’re on a slippery slope. Many people take medications to manage the effects of other medications they’re taking.
As soon as I began taking Diltiazem, I began the search in earnest for alternative treatments. I didn’t like the way the drug made me feel. If you haven’t started taking drugs yet, and your doctor says it’s okay to wait, explore your alternatives first. If you’re already taking medication, ask your doctor if the alternatives you’re considering are safe. If they are, try them. If they help, ask your doctor about reducing or eliminating your medications.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
One reason your doctor is unlikely to be supportive if you want to try alternatives to conventional treatment is that most vitamins, herbs, and other supplements have not been extensively researched. Most physicians practice evidence-based medicine; they’re reluctant to prescribe something that doesn’t have validation from controlled studies. Ignoring the fact that much of this research is itself questionable, and that the main reason there is a dearth of research on non-pharmaceutical alternatives is because they can’t be patented, keep in mind that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, i.e., just because something isn’t proven to work doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.
If you ask your doctor about a supplement, they’re likely to respond with, “There’s no evidence for that, but if you think it helps, it’s okay.” I’ve had three doctors tell me this almost word-for-word. If they don’t tell you outright that something you want to try is harmful, or interacts with medication you’re already taking, don’t be afraid to experiment. No one knows everything.
Treat the whole body, not the parts
Doctors like to break the body down into its constituent parts. If you talk to a cardiologist, he’s narrowly focused on the heart. Specialization is great—I don’t want my family doctor doing open heart surgery—but it also has it’s limits. Your cardiologist may not know anything about nutrition, for example. If you have other symptoms, he may not know if—or how—they relate to your atrial fibrillation. There’s no question in my mind that improving your health generally will improve your atrial fibrillation. Don’t be narrowly focused on treating your symptoms; take the initiative to do everything you can to become more healthy.
Start with your diet
The first thing I learned when I saw the cardiologist in the hospital was that my diet was a likely culprit in my atrial fibrillation attacks. I was dehydrated, had low potassium, and high blood sugar. When I got home, I read the packages of my recent diet of frozen pizzas, chips and salsa, cereals and ice cream. All of these processed foods were extremely high in sodium (which depletes potassium, necessary for healthy heart function), high in simple carbohydrates (which raises blood sugar, a risk factor for atrial fibrillation), and inflammatory (which may have contributed to my pericarditis, which exacerbated my atrial fibrillation).
One of the healthiest things you can do is eat a healthier diet. Change your diet, change your life.
Everyone is different
A medication, vitamin, or herb that works for someone else may or may not work for you. The same is true for other alternative treatments. I have a brother who can interrupt his episodes by bending over and bearing down as if he’s going to the bathroom. I’ve tried it; it didn’t work for me.
This principle applies to diet and nutrition, too. While there are general guidelines for healthy eating that apply to almost everyone (eat less, eat more fruits and vegetables), your constitution and current state of health requires a diet tailored to you. The principle is called bio-individuality. You’re unique.
How do you know, then, what’s right for you?
Learn to really listen to your body
Pay attention to your body. You don’t have to become a hypochondriac, just become intimately familiar with how your body feels and what makes you feel better or worse.
For example, I noticed that I felt worse at night if I slept on my left side. I later read that this is a common experience for people with atrial fibrillation. So I tried sleeping on my right side. Sure enough, that felt better. I also noticed that I felt worse if I stuffed myself at dinner, especially if I ate later in the evening. Again, I’ve since read that this is also a fairly common experience. I now try to eat dinner around 6:00 PM and to stop when I’m comfortably full.
I took this a step further and bought a stethoscope and began listening to my heart when I was relaxed and in normal sinus rhythm. Later, when I was having symptoms, I would sometimes listen to my heart with the stethoscope and remember what my heart sounded like when things were normal. I found it surprisingly comforting.
Go slowly and keep things simple
Try everything, but do one thing at a time and pay careful attention to your body. Your body is your lab. Experiment and notice what works or doesn’t work. It’s a good idea to take notes. Track how you’re feeling, what you’re doing when you experience symptoms, what you’ve been eating and what supplements you’ve been taking.
If you try supplements, try one new supplement at a time, take a small dose and slowly increase it to the recommended dose. If you’re desperate for help, then try several things and, if you begin feeling better, cut back on them one by one. Notice the effect on your body.
I’m a big believer in taking vitamins, herbs, and other supplements, but I’m not big on taking more than necessary. These substances can also have side effects or deleterious effects that are not well known. Some of them may be useless and a waste of money.
Don’t be afraid to try different options. Keep learning!
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Great to read about QiGong because I’ve just started to really commit myself to twice daily practice and am loving it. I’m doing Taiji QiGong. It is very gentle and meditative and unbelievably relaxing which has to be good for A Fib. My A fib is under control as I’ve been taking Flecinide an anti arrhythmic for almost 3 yrs now. I’ve managed to bring down the dose to half what I was put on. My EP said it was ok to try this.
I also take western herbs which are strengthening for my heart and I take 3-400mgs of Magnesium powder at night as well as coconut water. I’m only 2 weeks into my new practice of Qi Gong and I already feel so much lighter and happier in myself. I’d highly recommend this for anyone with or without A fib! I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for years also but Qi Gong works on the body/mind in a different and more subtle way and it also enhances my yoga practice and meditation practice….all good for the para-sympathetic nervous system which is most definitely good for A Fib sufferers as we tend to suffer from anxiety and depression.
I’ll stop there for now.
Blessings all on this sometimes very challenging path and thanks for sharing your tips.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with QiGong. I’m glad it’s working so well for you!
I wish you well!
Hi Bidddy, I’m very similar and done some Qigong. May I ask in what doses you reduced your Flecainide and for how long on each lower dose? I am just about to try this having been on 200mgs/day for 2 years. Many thanks.
Although I think products like these can be helpful I think it should also be noted that they can cause damage to the heart/health with overuse and abuse and misuse of these products. I am a product of that and feel that with all things moderation is key-use responsibly.
I would also like to see more research regarding these products being used continuously (i.e. daily every 20minutes) and how it affects your body/health long term. I because I feel pain and the strain/degree of it all.
“He wrote a prescription for me and suggested I take a chewable 81mg aspirin a day which I’ve been doing since last week.”
Concentrated aspirin hitting your esophagus and stomach can cause gastritis, which itself can be an afib trigger. So you may be better off either swallowing a coated aspirin tablet or dissolving half a soluble aspirin in a glass of water.
I’ve had palpitations/ afib for some time now but only becoming more frequent in the last 6 months since retiring from work. I’m stressed most of the time and always have been, something I’ve lived with. Since stopping work my routine has changed, perhaps another clue. With time on my hands I’ve been trying to find out what triggers these attacks, at first I thought it might be alcohol for some years now my wife and I have been sharing a bottle of red wine each evening, I have now reduced this to a couple of times a week with no improvement. I was told to eat more regularly and have salt with my meals also to drink a lot more water. I had a bout of A/f the other night after over indulging on rich chocolates, not sure if this was a trigger but I will try the chocolates again when I feel more settled. It was only reading on this site that I associated the chocolates and A/f.
I just turned twenty-four last week and I’ve been having some symptoms of Afib for the past year and a half. The past year has been very hard for me, I lost my mother and my farther had to be put into a nursing home and we had to sell our house so he could have more money for his medical expenses leaving me with nothing but stress and depression. It doesn’t help that my mother passed due to a heart attack and it’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about the most during the past year. It seems that all the stress has taken a huge toll on my heart. I’ve been hospitalized twice in the past because of my symptoms but the doctors only told me I was having an anxiety attack. True, I had a lot of anxiety but my heart was acting wonkers too.
It wasn’t until last week that I had a few glasses of wine to celebrate my 24th birthday that I had the worst episode yet. I woke up in the middle of the night due to terrible heart burn brought on by the wine. The acid churning in my stomach made me sick and I vomited. Immediately my heart was kicked out of its normal rhythem and after waiting for ten minutes with no sign of it stopping I had my boyfriend drive me to the E.R. Within just two minutes of being there they told me right away it looked like I had Afib.
After hours of spending my time in the E.R. They told me that I was healthy, other than my heart. I was hydrated and my potassium levels were normal. My thyroids looked fine and they couldn’t find anything wrong in my blood tests other than me being a be anemic which is typical for women. (They said I wasn’t very anemic either.) The doctor explained to me what Afib was and I told him “I’m glad to finally have a doctor who can tell me what’s going on with my heart and it all makes sense too.” All the symptoms fit. He wrote a prescription for me and suggested I take a chewable 81mg aspirin a day which I’ve been doing since last week. The medicine (Cardizem) has been working but it’s the lowest possible dose and only last for so long. As evening rolls around and the effects of the medicine roll off my symptoms return. They don’t bother me too much but it can become aggravating and it makes my mind race wondering what might happen to me in the future (there’s my anxiety kicking in.)
The thing is I’d do more about it but I don’t even have medical. I’m working on getting a job so I can afford medical and hopefully I can get all that arrange before my perscription runs out. Until then and the hours between taking my medicine what would you recommend I should do? I’m open for anything.
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke (Used to do both) and I don’t even like caffeinated things. I have changed my diet prior to my episode and have been keeping with that (Eating fruits, veggies, whole grains and going on walks which isn’t always an option. I live in Alaska and everything is currently covered in snow.) I always drinks lots of water so dehydration has never really been an issue with me… What can I do? I’d like to get my symptoms a little under control so this isn’t controlling my life..
Thank you for reading
Try iodine therapy. Google iodine an a fib.
I think I did something like h that. Never took aspirin or any drugs until high BP . BP meds side effects are af ect..
For a smooth heart rate. We need to be saturated .
Up to 50 mg a day for 2 to 4 mths. I’m in my third mth .sometimes I have up to 35 beats a minute in a row. In the beginning it was”all over the place according to Drs office staff.
Some times it’s regular for up to 35 beats in a row
I swear by Magnesium up to 200mg per day but try different dosage and what your body can tolerate. Can cause loose bowel movements. Also Taurine.
Currently I take Vite C 1000mg a day, Vite B12 100mcg a day, COQ10 150 mg a day, Calcium 1 600mg every other day,Taurine 2000mg a day, Magnesium 2000mg a day, Vite B complex 1 a day, and potassium when I feel I need it.
I was taking Metoprolol and Flecainide for my A FIB which I was getting 2 – 4 times a month sometimes more. 8-24 hour episodes. I no longer taaaake any drugs as such as side effects were making me into a Zombie,
Currently I have an episode once every couple of months.
Oh…and keep your weight at decent level…I found by getting my weight down to being slightly underweight and eating really health has had a profound effect on the way I feel. I go to gym 2-3 times a week as well.
I am female 74 and work 4 days a week.
Thanks for sharing your protocol on how to naturally fight afib. It’s very similar to mine except I don’t take any calcium and I don’t take that much magnesium. I’m only up to about 800mg per day of magnesium. I also take 200mg of CoQ10 per day. My episodes have subsided as well but I still get them about once a month…which is why I’m having an ablation in March.
I wish you well!
I have found the magnesium orotate very effective and very safe. Have a look at the additives in any packaged food you are eating. Also, Chinese food has monosodium glutamate in it and this is a definite trigger, as is preservative 220 found in wine. Even if the food does not have any additives, the sauces all have preservatives. Coffee and chocolate are not good either. Acupuncture is a good idea because apart from helping to regulate your heartbeat it will calm you and take away much of the fear associated with A-fib.
Good luck and keep us all posted.
If anyone have any proven techniques or safe herbs suggestions, Please give me a call.
Hello everyone, 3 years ago I discovered I have AFIB and I’ve been trying to find a safe way to calm the attacks or stop them from occurring completely, I read post stating magnesium orotate will help and bananas will also do the job, and others say these can cause an episode to happen? I take digoxin and baby aspirin now what are some suggestions?
Three months have gone by and I still have no sign of A-fib. I am convinced that the magnesium orotate has been doing its job. I have been taking half a fluid tablet per day because there has been a slight build-up of fluid behind the heart and relieving this pressure, as well as taking the magnesium has been very successful. My cardiologist actually listened to what I had to say and is going to put his patients onto magnesium for the same reason.
I’m a new person.
i am an acupuncture student, and i got afib about 3 years ago. i knew i didn’t want to get started on pharmaceuticals, and have only been treated with acupuncture and herbs. i’ve also tried many supplements. acupuncture definitely helps regulate my heartbeat, and there is a specific acupuncture method called the the balance method by Dr. Richard Tan that made a notable difference. he is based in California, maybe San Diego, and has a website where you might get more info regarding locating an acupuncturist who will work with you.
also, the pharmacology teacher at our school (he is a retired pharmacist and a practicing acupuncturist at a hospital here in Minneapolis) had an afib patient he had been treating–the patient was allergic to the meds and was responding well to acupuncture and herbs.
Marina, you’ll need to see an acupuncturist/herbalist to find out what herbs are right for you. There are numerous formulas which are appropriate for atrial fibrillation and you’ll need a practitioner to determine the best one and, most likely, how it will need to be modified for your unique situation.
P.S. I meant to say when you have time can you recommend those Chinese Herbs you mentioned in your post to me. Thanks!
Dear Mr. Ellis,
Thank You! For your reply. I tried calling several Acupuncturist here in Los Angeles & none of them wanted to treat me for A-Fib. I spoke to a Chinese Dr. here in Chinatown & a Jewish Dr. & they both said the same thing. Go to a Cardiologist which is what I’ve been doing. Ok! When you have time can you recommend or post the one’s good for A-Fib. It is much appreciated. Much Success to you in school. I had acupuncture before with an elderly Chinese woman in Chinatown for my shoulder & went back to her for several other ailments & she was excellent. She also did cupping & Moxi. I believed it’s called. I went to Emperors school for Chinese Medicine here in Santa Monica too. I believe in it & I know you usually have to go back for series it seems no one wants to mess with the Heart. Thank You! Again. Peace & Light…Marina ;)
Marina, acupuncture can help in a number of ways, but it isn’t easy to explain (I’ll have to find time to write a post about it). Even more helpful than acupuncture, though, are the Chinese herbs. I’ve been taking them for about a year now and I don’t know what I would do without them. It’s important to remember that Chinese medicine treats each individual uniquely, so there is no one acupuncture or herbal prescription that will work for everyone.
If you are going to get acupuncture, you will need a series to get the full benefit, though it’s likely you will feel better after your first session. The herbs will take a little longer to have their effect and you will probably need to take them for some time, having the formula adjusted now and then as your needs change.
Yes, I’m in acupuncture school, having just finished my fourth trimester out of ten. I still have a long way to go! It’s keeping me very busy so, unfortunately, I don’t have time to be as active on LWAF as I’d like to be, but I do check in from time to time.
Happy New Year everyone, and be healthy!
Dear Mr. Robert Ellis,
I was wondering if you could explain how Acupuncture helps with A-Fib.
I remember reading one of your posts a while back where you mentioned you were going to school & almost finished (if my memory serves me correctly) with your studies. The other question is do you have to have a series of Acupuncture for A-Fib? I look forward to hearing form you & Happy New Year! To you Mr. Ellis & EveryOne on LWAF. Peace & ❤ in ‘2010.
I know I have written about it a few times but why don’t you try some magnesium orotate? I find that if I wake up during the night in afib, it is usually because I have become too hot by having too many bedclothes on me. Take note of what you have eaten prior to an episode or whether or not you have had enough water during the day. It’s a matter of observing your lifestyle for a while to see if there is a pattern. The Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) website is closing soon as the founder is retiring. It would be a good idea for you to become familiar with this technique as I have found it invaluable in returning my heartbeat to its normal rhythm. Go into the newsletter archives and look for articles about atrial fibrillation and this technique OR just Google the words emofree atrial fibrillation and you will find some people’s experiences which might assist you. Good luck.
I have afib for 8 years and have gone throw most meds . My doctor says there is no meds left for me. I am on sotalol and coumadin. I go in afib at any time,it does not seem to be any pattern. I eat will . Very little meat and no caffine or alcohol . I tryed hydrating my self , it seems to work for a time.I can go in afib in the middle of the night as I sleep. I do not know what else to do. The opartion is my next step it seems.
I totally agree on diet changes, as I am now about 80% organic. I don’t drink coffee or alcohol (never have) and have never smoked. There’s something else I do, and have been doing for the last few years. Its called “qi-gong”. It’s a form of meditation. I went to a qi-gong retreat last year and learned so much more. One can heal themself and others. I can do both now. If I lived in Minnesota (where it’s based), I would probably take more instruction on healing. The name of this particular form of qi-gong is “Spring Forest Qi-gong”. Check it out on the internet. Basically, qi-gong believes that all illness is a blockage in the body, so in order to heal one must move that blockage out. Some blockages take a long time to move out totally, some right away. I, personally, have had some serious health challenges these last few years, and with the help of allopathic (modern) medicine and qi-gong, when allopathy wasn’t the answer, I’m still here. I still have atrial fibrillation, I take Cardizem 180 mg daily. I am seriously thinking of using magnesium in it’s place. Haven’t decided yet. I very rarely have any fibrillation, when I do, it doesn’t last long and is usually caused by lack of sleep. When one is seriously health challenged, it is imperative to make changes in one’s lifestyle on all fronts. If nothing changes, so goes your health and possibly, your life.
No chocolate? !!!
Peter, it’s a good idea to avoid all stimulants, including caffeine and alcohol. I won’t even go near chocolate. It would probably be fine for me now that I have my afib under control, but it’s not worth the risk.
It’s no coincidence that you’ve had fewer episodes after taking magnesium and taurine. Both are excellent for anyone with atrial fibrillation.
Stay hydrated. If you can, drink coconut water. It contains ample potassium and magnesium. Both are great for the heart.
I didn’t see anything about caffeine or alcohol, maybe I missed it. My cardiologist wants me to limit these to one cup of coffee a day and two alcoholic drinks, max. I’ve been keeping records of my episodes and can’t find any correlation with coffee and it does seem like if I drink much too much alcohol I’m more likely to have an episode of a-fib, though I quit drinking for a short while with no change in frequency of a-fib.
Might be coincidence, but I’ve had fewer episodes since started taking Jarrow’s “magnesium optimizer”, (magnesium and taurine) a couple of months ago.
I found your site this morning after searching on Bing for “atrial fibrillation, dehydration” as I had an episode last night when I was very dehydrated. and I plan to stay tuned. Mine are most likely to come on when I wake up from a nap in the recliner, can’t figure that out.
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