I’m almost done my last quarter as a student clinician at the Bastyr teaching clinic. Lucky for me, I get to finish my student career on two different specialty shifts that focus on diabetes and cardiovascular wellness. I absolutely love this area of medicine!
On these shifts, I have seen several patients seeking natural treatment for atrial fibrillation. Initially, this surprised me because I didn’t realize how popular this heart condition was. After I looked it up on MDConsult (an online tool for doctors loaded with medical info), I learned that atrial fibrillation is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. I probably learned that before, in pathology class or cardiology class, but apparently I don’t remember everything to a T. That’s OK, though!
First things first. If you want to be a cool cat, you have to say “a-fib” instead of atrial fibrillation. In very watered down terms, a-fib occurs when the atria, your upper heart chambers, flutter like crazy. Obviously, that’s not good. A-fib occurs most frequently in those 65 and older. It is rare to occur in kids.
The first time I saw atrial fibrillation on our patient schedule, I thought to myself, “naturopathic medicine’s got nothing for that.” Boy, was I wrong, wrong, wrong. There’s actually a lot that naturopathic medicine can offer atrial fibrillation, but only as adjunctive care. All of the patients I have seen have been concurrently under the care of their cardiologist and on medication to manage their a-fib.
Complementary and alternative medicine addresses three key areas to improve the health of those with a-fib:
A healthy diet affects everything, even a-fib. Alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate can aggravate it. A naturopathic physician can fine tune your diet for optimal cardiovascular health.
It is very interesting how much mismanaged stress can exacerbate atrial fibrillation. A 2013 study based on subjective reports from patients found that those people who suffer from persistent a-fib also have emotional distress.1 This isn’t an Einstein discovery. Poorly managed stress ruins good health.
Yoga can improve a-fib symptoms and may reduce its incidence. This is fascinating, since yoga can also improve one’s quality of life and, aha, reduce stress. There are actually some published research studies that discuss the benefits of yoga in those with atrial fibrillation.
3. Natural Supplements
There are multiple natural supplements that can benefit atrial fibrillation. Each supplement must be carefully considered in terms of one’s underlying cardiac conditions, other health problems, and medications. Supplements for a-fib should never be taken willy nilly (I love saying that phrase), and should only be used under the supervision of a naturopathic physician who feels confident co-managing atrial fibrillation with a conventional cardiologist. Not all NDs feel comfortable doing this.
Some supplements include, but are not limited to, magnesium glycinate, vitamin D, fish oil, hawthorne berry, CoQ10, L-carnitine, and D-ribose. I’m not telling you these supplements so that you can prescribe them yourself, but to say that, yes, there are natural things you can take to benefit your a-fib. Self-prescribing natural supplements for atrial fibrillation can be dangerous. A naturopathic doctor knows the right brands to use, the appropriate biochemical form of the supplement for optimal effectiveness (because they can vary), and the ideal dose.
A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) can offer many different natural therapies to complement the conventional management of a-fib by your cardiologist. He or she can assist you in finding the best diet, the best lifestyle choices, and the best supplements to reduce a-fib symptoms, occurrence, and adverse complications. Since not all naturopaths feel comfortable working with this condition, call in advance to check. If you can’t find an ND in your area that will work with a-fib, some offer phone consults.
1. Kupper N, van den Broek KC, Widdershoven J, et al. Subjectively reported symptoms in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation and emotional distress. Frontiers in Psychology. 2013 April 24;4:192.
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