Dr. AFib’s Atrial Fibrillation Diet Tips
Weight loss is a common recommendation that patients receive during the management for atrial fibrillation. But why is there a recommendation for weight loss? Are there any diet tips that can be beneficial for AFib patients?
In 2015, the LEGACY trial was very much of a landmark trial, which showed how much weight loss could improve someone's atrial fibrillation. It was such an important trial that those results help make it to the 2019 Guideline Update for the Management of Atrial Fibrillation.
In the LEGACY trial, it was a five-year study, which studied over 350 patients, focusing mostly on weight loss and exercise. There was no significant difference between the groups in terms of other medical treatments that they received. During the study, people underwent diet treatment with a high protein, low glycemic index diet as well as low intensity exercise, which was gradually increased over the study period.
Now, they don't really go into in the study design too much in terms of what type of diet they used or what type of food they used other than it was very high protein and low glycemic index, but the study did find that people who had consistent weight loss had significant benefits in their atrial fibrillation. For example, the people who had the highest amount of weight loss, which is over 10% of their initial body weight, especially if they're able to maintain that weight loss over the period of the study, had a six-fold improvement in their atrial fibrillation.
So there was significant improvement in a patient’s atrial fibrillation with about 10% weight loss. In addition, there was an also seen improvement in high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as some inflammatory blood test markers. Weight loss is certainly something that can be very beneficial for people who have atrial fibrillation and it represents the best option for natural treatment for someone's atrial fibrillation.
But how do you guide someone towards a diet type? Patients want to know what types of diets might be okay, which type would be beneficial. These are my diet tips or diets that I think are satisfactory and potentially beneficial for patients that have atrial fibrillation.
1. Mediterranean Diet
So the first diet that I will recommend is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is the first diet that I typically recommend to my atrial fibrillation patients, as it has been the most studied when it comes to patients with all types of heart disease, including coronary artery disease as well as atrial fibrillation, as well.
In a 2014 study called the PREDIMED study, over 6000 patients were studied over a period of five years. During this study patients adhered to the Mediterranean diet using the traditional staples of the Mediterranean diet, as well as supplementing with olive oil, and found that the patients had a significant benefit of a 38% reduction in their atrial fibrillation when they adhered to a Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been studied for atrial fibrillation, but also for other health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and coronary artery disease. It has been found to have significant benefits in several health areas, and it's thought primarily to do with its antioxidant effects as well as the anti-inflammatory improvement when adhering to this diet.
In the Mediterranean diet, the staples are primarily plant-based foods, focused on items like fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. You replace butter with healthier olive oil, and use herbs and spices instead of using salt to season your food. In addition the diet limits red meat with more of an emphasis on fish as well as poultry. So, those are the main staples of the Mediterranean diet, and there are several good cookbooks available to help guide people who want to start the Mediterranean diet.
Now, the next two diet types that I recommend have not been studied as much, particularly in the scenario of patients that have atrial fibrillation, but they have been shown to have improvements in inflammatory markers, and atrial fibrillation has a lot of inflammation involved in it. As a result, even though these diet types have not been studied as thoroughly for atrial fibrillation patients, I think these are healthy diets that can also benefit people who have atrial fibrillation. One would be a gluten-free diet, the other one would be the paleo diet.
2. Gluten-Free Diet
In a gluten-free diet, you eliminate gluten, which is a group of proteins found most commonly in wheat, rye, and barley products. Gluten–free diets eliminate many of the grains that are most commonly available. In this diet many types of carbs including most pastas, pizzas, and breads are eliminated unless they're specifically made gluten-free. Fortunately, in today's world, it's becoming more of a commonplace to have gluten-free diets. In several supermarkets, you will be able to see gluten-free breads, pizzas, as well as pastas.
The gluten-free diet has been shown to have improvement in patient’s inflammatory markers. As a result it may also show an improvement in atrial fibrillation, as well. Just the natural process of eliminating foods that have either high carbs or flour in it, is a healthier way of eating, and so this is another diet that I typically recommend to my patients.
3. The Paleo Diet
The last diet that I recommend to patients, which is probably the strictest of all but also may have the most health benefits is the paleo diet. The reason why I recommend the paleo diet is because it virtually eliminates all processed food.
In the paleo diet, it's sometimes called the hunter-gatherer diet, or the caveman diet, the basic philosophy of it is that if a caveman couldn't eat it, then you shouldn't eat it, either. So it really puts a focus on food in its most natural elements and eliminates all sorts of processed foods and refined sugars. So in the paleo diet, it really puts a focus on eating fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and really kind of keeping everything as natural as possible.
This diet may potentially have the most health benefits because it really eliminates a lot of processed foods, which can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and may also have benefits for heart disease, including atrial fibrillation. But it is also the strictest to adhere to as well.
My final thoughts:
These are the diet tips that I typically recommend to my patients. I usually recommend the Mediterranean diet first because it actually has some data behind it to show that it can be beneficial, and I feel it is the least restrictive of these three diet types. I also feel that gluten-free diet as well as paleo diets can also be very beneficial diets that can help people with atrial fibrillation, mostly because of their emphasis on eliminating processed foods and refined sugars.
But I emphasize to you that with all of these diet types; the benefits received are a long-term strategy. You can see in the studies that I quoted that patients were studied for five years. None of these diet types are quick fixes. They are part of improved long-term healthy eating habits, which can help you with high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight loss, as well as potentially helping you with atrial fibrillation as well. There has been a lot of data that shows that weight loss can significantly improve a patient’s atrial fibrillation and is the best option currently available for natural treatment for atrial fibrillation.
Always discuss with your doctor which diet type might be right for you, and of course, these diet types don't take the place of guideline-recommended medical therapy as prescribed by your doctor.
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