Atrial fibrillation (AF), when the heart beats irregularly or faster than normal, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). As well as the palpitations your friend is familiar with, it can cause fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pain. And while it's not immediately life-threatening, it can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
The best plan of action is for your friend to work with an experienced functional medicine practitioner who can try to work out if there's a correctable cause such as high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid, a food allergy, an infection or certain medications, and then recommend a personalized treatment plan.
But here are some simple lifestyle tweaks for your friend that the science says may help.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
A Mediterranean diet—one that's high in whole grains, olive oil, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables—is widely considered the best diet for the heart. And those who follow the diet have a lower risk of AF.1 Aim to eat an array of brightly colored fruit and veggies—such as blueberries, raspberries, kale, beets and red cabbage—as these tend to be rich in heart-healthy antioxidants.
It's been estimated that atrial fibrillation will affect 6-12 million people in the US by 2050 and 17.9 million in Europe by 2060.
Cut the caffeine
Even though the evidence is far from clear cut,2 caffeine could be a cause of AF for some. Try eliminating it from your diet to see if there's a positive effect. Watch out for it in tea, chocolate, energy drinks, protein bars, ice cream and headache pills as well as your cup of coffee.
Heavy drinkers are about 50 percent more likely to develop AF than those who drink moderately or not at all.3 And if you smoke, quit—smoking doubles the risk.4
This traditional Chinese technique has been shown to be nearly 20 percent more effective at controlling AF than the antiarrhythmic drug amiodarone and is free of the nasty side-effects.5 In patients who've had electrical cardioversion—a conventional therapy that uses low-energy shocks to get the heart's rhythm back to normal—acupuncture can prevent the abnormal rhythms from coming back.6
Take up yoga
Practicing yoga twice a week for three months can reduce AF episodes as well as feelings of depression and anxiety.7 It may work by alleviating stress and boosting emotional wellbeing, both of which appear to be important factors in AF.
Don't worry, be happy
Research suggests that negative emotions—sadness, anger, stress, impatience and anxiety—can trigger AF, and symptoms are 85 percent less likely on 'happy days.'1 Try to foster a healthy mindset by taking time for the things that make you feel good.
Here are five proven ways to boost wellbeing from British think tank the New Economics Foundation.2
Get connected. Social relationships are vital for health and happiness. Invest time in connecting with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Join a group that interests you or get involved with your local community.
Stay active. Exercise is good for both body and mind. Find an activity that makes you feel good and suits your fitness level and mobility.
Be mindful. Paying more attention to your surroundings and the present moment, known as mindfulness, can improve wellbeing. Try one of the many mindfulness journals now available to get you into the habit of living in the now.
Keep learning. Learning new things can boost optimism, self-esteem and may even lift depression. Set yourself an enjoyable challenge such as learning to play an instrument, a sport or how to cook your favorite food.
Give. Those who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Volunteer, help a stranger or do something nice for a friend.