The Truth About Intermittent Fasting and AFib

What if we told you that you could lose weight and improve heart health, all while saving money? Sounds too good to be true? It’s not! Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle that is quickly gaining popularity, and for good reasons. If you have AFib, you’ll want to read on. 

What is intermittent fasting?

We live in a very indulgent society. With the advent of fast-food restaurants in the 1950s and 60s, we became accustomed to readily available food. As convenience stores began popping up on every corner, we started eating more and more. But is this food abundance a good thing? 

Reflecting on the days of our prehistoric ancestors reveals a very different eating pattern. Before modern-day agriculture, these hunter-gatherers ate what they could hunt or forage, often going days between meals. As a result, our ancestors unknowingly practiced what we now call intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is not a diet. Instead, it’s a type of time-restricted eating. People who practice intermittent fasting cycle between periods of refraining or limiting their eating, and periods of unrestricted eating. 

Intuitively, intermittent fasting makes sense. Biologically, humans live according to a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour internal clock that adjusts according to the sun. Therefore, it’s natural to consume food during the daytime hours, when our digestive systems are primed to work. Perhaps this is why studies have shown night shift workers to be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Is intermittent fasting good for AFib?

Atrial fibrillation is an electrical malfunction that causes the heart’s upper chambers to beat quickly and erratically. Identifying the root cause of AFib is challenging, but we know that there are many risk factors for the disease. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol all contribute to AFib. Since intermittent fasting is beneficial for these risk factors, it stands to reason that it can help reduce the risk of AFib.

There is very little research on the relationship between AFib and intermittent fasting. However, at least one study found that intermittent fasting did not contribute to higher rates of AFib. 

Can intermittent fasting cause AFib? 

There is no evidence to prove that intermittent fasting can cause AFib. However, AFib patients interested in intermittent fasting should do so under the supervision of a doctor. If done incorrectly, fasting can lead to electrolyte imbalances, which can trigger arrhythmias such as AFib. Therefore, it’s essential to stay hydrated and ensure the proper potassium, sodium, and magnesium balance when fasting. 

7 ways intermittent fasting might help AFib

Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of intermittent fasting for heart health. Here are just a few ways that intermittent fasting could help AFib.

Breaks unhealthy habits

Intermittent fasting is an excellent way to break unwanted habits and reset the body. Sugar, carbohydrates, coffee, and alcohol are addictive, and just a taste leaves the body craving more. Much like rebooting a computer, intermittent fasting can help break the chain of events, resetting your system. Since many of these unhealthy habits contribute to AFib, eliminating these items through intermittent fasting helps to reduce your risk. 

Helps shed unwanted pounds

Intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight. A recent review of over 25 studies found that intermittent fasting contributed to one to eight percent weight loss. As we know, weight loss helps lower other cardiac risk factors. For example, obesity is a significant risk factor for atrial fibrillation, so shedding those extra pounds will help to reduce your risk. 

Lowers inflammation

Inflammation is one of the main driving factors of AFib. Leaky gut syndrome, environmental pollutants, and nutrient imbalances can all cause the immune system to go into hyperdrive, creating inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has shown intermittent fasting can negate these effects. A recent study found that intermittent fasting reduced monocytes in the body, a white blood cell that indicates inflammation. Keeping the body in a low-inflammatory state may help to prevent AFib episodes.

Lowers blood pressure and heals the gut

Nearly 20 percent of all AFib patients have high blood pressure. In a recent study examining data from more than one million people, researchers concluded that high blood pressure causes AFib. Scientists have long known that intermittent fasting reduces blood pressure

However, a recent study may have discovered exactly why that is. Scientists believe that intermittent fasting alters the gut microbiota, which lowers hypertension. Fasting is an excellent way to heal the gut, allowing the body to repair itself. If the gut microbiome is healthy, the heart will often be healthy as well. 

Helps cholesterol levels 

Intermittent fasting has many effects on cholesterol, including increasing LDL particle size. Smaller-sized LDL particles increase the risk for heart disease. While the relationship between cholesterol and AFib has been debated, we know that intermittent fasting helps improve cholesterol levels, protecting the heart. 

Can reduce stress 

Intermittent fasting works to lower stress levels in the body. Fasting releases several “feel good” chemicals in the brain, including endorphins and serotonin

Additionally, a 2016 study showed that 48 hours of fasting resulted in significantly higher parasympathetic activity, the rest and digest part of the nervous system. As a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system (where the body is stuck in a sympathetic- fight or flight- state) is a primary driver of AFib, targeting this with fasting is highly therapeutic for AFib.

Cleans your cells

Our bodies replace billions of cells every single day, including in the heart. This is a good thing since our world is filled with toxins that get stored in our bodies. Intermittent fasting is proven to have potent detoxification effects. Since high toxin loads in the body contribute to AFib, cleaning those cells drastically reduces your risk. 

What is the best way to fast?

There are many methods of fasting, and each has its benefits. When first fasting, it’s best to start slow. Begin by shortening the window within which you eat. For example, start by having your last meal by 6:00 pm and refrain from snacking after dinner. In this way, you are already fasting for at least 12 hours, assuming you eat breakfast after 6:00 am. Once you’ve achieved this goal, try the following: 

  • 16-hour fast – Enjoy your last meal at dinnertime, aiming for a relatively early dinner. Then, plan on skipping breakfast the next day, eating again at lunchtime. 
  • 24-hour fast – Enjoy your last meal at dinnertime, skipping breakfast and lunch the next day. Then, eat dinner once again.
  • 36-hour fast – Enjoy your last meal on a Saturday evening. Refrain from eating anything on Sunday. Plan on breaking your fast at Monday morning breakfast. 

Be sure to work your way up to the longer fasts carefully and only under the direction of your doctor. Then, as you become more comfortable, you can explore many other types of fasting. You may also want to consider rotating the types of intermittent fasting that you do, keeping your body on its toes. 

Diet quality in the “eating window”

Here’s where most people get intermittent fasting wrong: Many believe that you can eat whatever you want, as long as it’s within the eating window. This could not be further from the truth. For intermittent fasting to work properly for the heart, you must replenish yourself with heart-healthy, nutrient-dense food. Choose only organic, gluten-free foods, such as vegetables, grass-fed beef, fish, nuts and seeds, or fruit. 

Tips for a successful intermittent fast 

  • Relax – Fasting on low-stress days is essential for success. Since fasting does stress the body, it’s important to balance that with minimal outside stress. Choose a non-work day and plan on rewarding yourself with easy activities such as reading a book, listening to a podcast, sitting in the sunshine, or going for a light walk. 
  • Hydrate – Hydration is always vital, but especially when fasting. Humans get much of their hydration through food. Since you will not be eating, you must obtain that water elsewhere. Additionally, the body needs fluids to flush the toxins from your body. Be certain that the water you drink is high quality, free of chemicals, and that you drink at least one gallon per day. 
  • Get a massage – Massages are a great way to get the lymph flowing in our bodies, which helps to move toxins out of the body. It’s also an incredible way to reward yourself for taking care of your body. 

Intermittent fasting is just one more tool in your toolbox

Just as there is unlikely to be one cause of AFib, there is no one-pronged approach to healing or preventing it either. Instead, it takes dedication and commitment to live a healthy lifestyle. Intermittent fasting is one more tool that you can add to your toolbox to help ensure that you stay AFib-free and healthy! 

Next steps

For many, the idea of intermittent fasting can be incredibly overwhelming and even a little scary. Schedule a block of one on one coaching calls with a health coach on the Natural Heart Doctor Team to ask any questions you might have about fasting and AFib and get expert support to help guide you through this healing process.

Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well 

Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD 2022

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