The heart’s upper chambers normally beat in a regular, coordinated rhythm with the heart’s lower chambers. In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers can quiver out of rhythm.
The result is an irregular heart rhythm that can cause symptoms, such as shortness of breath, weakness, heart palpitations, and sometimes a heart murmur. The condition can also lead to blood clots developing in the upper chambers, which can cause a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) treatments can vary based on the symptoms that people experience. While it’s important for people to follow a doctor’s advice related to A-fib treatments, they might also choose to supplement medical treatments with natural ones.
Although natural treatments are often not widely studied, there are several treatments and activities that may help to reduce the symptoms and effects of A-fib.
Some triggers for A-fib include:
- air pollution
- some over-the-counter, prescription, and recreational drugs
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine approach, may help those with A-fib control their heart rates, according to a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Acupuncture involves applying small needles to specific points on the body to promote energy flow. The acupuncture point is linked with controlling heart rhythm problems, but more research is still needed.
Yoga is the practice of deep breathing, meditation, and body postures. Regular yoga practice for 1 hour, 3 days a week has been shown to reduce the amount of A-fib episodes, according to one study.
While the exact way that yoga reduces the incidence of A-fib isn’t known, researchers suggest that yoga could reduce stress and inflammation that damages the heart as well as reduce a person’s resting heart rate.
One of the natural herbs reported to reduce A-fib and its symptoms is the Chinese herb extract Wenxin Keli (WXKL).
In a review of current studies regarding WXKL and its proposed effects, the authors found that taking the herb could have the following effects:
- reduce changes to the heart that can occur as a result of A-fib
- improve the maintenance of regular rhythm
- have similar benefits as the beta-blocker sotalol in maintaining regular heart rhythms
- reduce symptoms associated with A-fib, such as chest tightness, palpitations, and difficulty sleeping
However, the researchers noted that there are not a significant amount of studies or recommendations regarding a dosage for WXKL.
Another study studied the effects of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs compared with prescription medications in treating A-fib.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers made the following conclusions:
- The TCM users had a reduced risk for stroke (1.93 percent) compared with non-TCM users (12.59 percent).
- TCM users who were female or younger than 65 experienced the greatest stroke reduction benefits.
- Those older than age 65 did not experience a significant reduced stroke risk.
However, it’s important to note that one Chinese herb called Dan Shen can interact harmfully with warfarin, a blood thinner that doctors often prescribe to people with A-fib.
The researchers noted that there were several limitations to the study. For example, they did not track any of the participants’ lifestyle factors that could have affected their risk. The participants could also have been using other herbal medicines that the researchers weren’t aware of.
Other herbs and supplements that may help treat AFib, according to the Journal of Thoracic Diseases, include:
- barberry (berberis)
- omega-3 fatty acids
Lifestyle habits and eating certain foods and drinks can potentially trigger episodes of A-fib. One such habit is smoking. Other examples include:
- Drinking alcohol excessively: no more than 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks for a man each day and no more than 1 drink per day for women. People older than age 65 should have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day. Moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers were 1.35 times more likely to have A-fib than non-drinkers.
- Consuming excess amounts of caffeine. About 400 milligrams of caffeine is a safe upper limit for adults on a daily basis. This is roughly the same as four brewed cups of coffee.
- Taking cough and cold medicines that contain stimulants, such as dextromorphan or promethazine-codeine cough syrup.
- Eating more than four servings of “dark” fish per week. According to one study, eating more than 4 servings of dark fish, such as salmon, swordfish, bluefish, mackerel, and sardines can actually increase the risk for A-fib.
Some people are more sensitive to medications and additives than others. If a person notices that eating a certain food or drink increases the incidence of irregular heart rhythms, they should talk to their doctor.
Many people with A-fib have a condition called sleep apnea. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, which causes a person to stop breathing for brief periods while they are asleep.
Sleep apnea can weaken the heart because the heart has to start working harder to make up for the lost oxygen when a person stops breathing.
Symptoms that suggest a person could be experiencing sleep apnea include:
- being told they snore
- waking themselves up at night with snoring or irregular breathing
- having excessive daytime sleepiness
Anyone with these symptoms should see their doctor or a sleep medicine specialist.
A healthful lifestyle overall tends to promote heart health. As a result, a person may experience a reduced incidence of A-fib or lessen the risk of their symptoms getting worse.
Examples of healthful habits to follow include:
- eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- exercising regularly
- managing high blood pressure through both medications and natural treatments, if desired
- avoiding excess intakes of alcohol and caffeine
- managing long-term conditions that could contribute to or worsen A-fib
Long-term conditions that could contribute to A-fib include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, thyroid disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
According to the American Heart Association, a person with A-fib is five times more likely to have a stroke than someone who does not have a history of heart disease. By working to prevent cardiac complications, a person can live a healthier life with A-fib.