High-Salt Diet Could Spur Irregular Heartbeat

Just in time for the holidays, a study came out out that says eating salty food regularly could cause irregular heartbeat.

Atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, is a common heart rhythm disorder characterized by irregular heartbeat. A-fib can lead to complications such as blood clots, leaving you at higher risk of stroke.

About Atrial Fibrillation

A healthy heart beats steadily and regularly, aided by an electrical signal that tells it when to contract. When something goes wrong in this system, the two upper chambers of the heart—the atria—don’t beat in a steady rhythm. Instead, they beat too quickly and with an odd quivering motion. A-fib can make your heart beat as quickly as 175 beats a minute, as opposed to the normal range of 60–100.

Not all cases of atrial fibrillation are explained, but the most common causes are heart disease and/or high blood pressure. The risk of a-fib rises with age, and people over 60 are most likely to get it. Other risk factors are obesity, smoking, family history, sleep apnea, and COPD.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

  • tiring easily with exercise
  • feeling like your heart is racing or flip-flopping
  • feeling dizzy and lightheaded
  • breathing difficulty or shortness of breath
  • chest pain

Atrial fibrillation leaves you at higher risk of stroke and heart failure.

How Salt May Affect Your Risk of A-fib

A study published mid-November in Annals of Medicine found that high-sodium intake is linked to atrial fibrillation. The research team, based in Finland’s University of Oulu, followed 716 middle-aged participants for 19 years.

During that time, 74 of the subjects developed a-fib. The researchers found that even after controlling for other risk factors, salt consumption was associated with a-fib. This study did not find that high salt intake causes atrial fibrillation; rather, it confirmed that it may increase your risk of the condition.

About the results, study author Tero Paakko said:

This study provides the first evidence that dietary salt may increase the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation, adding to a growing list of dangers from excessive salt consumption on our cardiovascular health.

Although further confirmatory studies are needed, our results suggest that people who are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation may benefit from restricting salt in their diet.

What is Sodium?

Sodium—or salt—is a mineral found naturally in many foods, and is important for maintaining a healthy balance of fluids in our bodies. Too much sodium, however, can cause damage to the body.

A healthy adult should take in 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That’s just 1 teaspoon of table salt. But if you’re at risk of heart disease, your  doctor may have recommended you reduce or completely eliminate salt.

How can you lower your salt intake without compromising on taste?

Here are a few suggestions from our nutrition specialists:

  • Get rid of the salt shaker.
  • Avoid processed foods. Even packaged foods that don’t taste salty are surprisingly high in sodium. The biggest offenders are anything containing MSG, garlic salt, onion salt, instant soup mixes, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, or teriyaki sauce.
  • Avoid Chinese food.
  • Use fresh vegetables, herbs, and no-sodium spice blends to prepare hearty and tasty soups.
  • Meat and chicken are best served broiled or roasted in 100% orange, lemon, lime, or pineapple juice. Vinegar is also a good base for meat marinades.
  • Read food labels. The nutrition labels tell you how much sodium is in each serving, as well as the percentage of your daily intake. Remember that if you’re on a low-sodium diet, your daily intake is much lower.
  • If you’re eating out at a restaurant or at a family dinner, don’t be shy to ask about the sodium levels, and for low-sodium alternatives.

Bridgeway Senior Living wishes very happy holidays to our readers, our residents, our families, and our staff.