By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Recent research has emerged that will make you think twice before you cut out all of the bread from your life. Scientists have gathered together multiple studies that show a low carb diet may make you more likely to develop atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib is one of the most common types of irregular heartbeats, and often leads to strokes, blood clots, and heart failure. It makes you five times more likely to have a stroke and should be closely monitored.
AFib occurs when the atria (upper heart chambers) beat at a different rate than the ventricles (lower heart chambers). This abnormal electrical activity may last for a few seconds, a few weeks, or the rest of someone’s life. It doesn’t always have symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. The most common signs are chest pain, lightheadedness, and uneven heart rate that increases from the normal 60-100 beats per minute to 100-175 beats per minute. The faster your heart pumps, the less blood it can push throughout your body. When this happens, your blood will start to pool, increasing your risk of clots and strokes.
AFib with rapid ventricular response (RVR) is a more serious form of AFib and usually requires medical treatment. In this kind, the atria and ventricles are both beating too fast, making blood clots and strokes even more likely. People who have AFib with RVR often feel out of breath and dizzy to the point of passing out. Their hearts are beating so quickly and out of sync that they can’t get enough blood flow through their bodies.
So how can you be sure if you have AFib or not? The only way to diagnose both AFib and RVR is to use an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG is a device that records your heartbeat so your doctor can analyze it. AFib and RVR exhibit very unique electrical activity and are easily spotted with an ECG. Since your heart isn’t always in a constant state of arrhythmia, you might have to wear the machine for as long as two weeks if you don’t exhibit symptoms right away.
So how does AFib relate to keto diets? Are keto diets safe? After thousands of studies, researchers conclude that swapping out carbs will increase your risk of AFib—whether you replace carbs with high amounts of fat or high amounts of protein. This means that keto, paleo, and Atkins diets are all linked to an increased risk of heart disease. These diets have been trendy for a while because they are great for weight loss, but the long term effects aren’t fully understood. Following safe keto diet tips is important to get the best results the smart way.
Although the long term effects of keto aren’t known, staying on the diet for too long does seem to cause some adverse side effects. For example, 5% of keto dieters have developed kidney stones because the pH of their urine dropped too low during ketosis. Others exhibit weaker bones and children exhibit stunted growth. Ketogenic diets are not meant to be long term. They are a short term tool to help you lose weight at a faster rate.
Even after all of the research conducted on low carb diets and AFib, some individuals question the findings of these studies. The main issue: some claim that study participants weren’t really on a low carb diet. They were on a lower carb diet, but not one low enough to be truly keto or paleo. If the study participants were eating high fat foods while still eating moderate carbs, they would be at higher risk for health problems. Obesity, diabetes, and sleep apnea all increase your chances of getting Afib. Since low carb diets have been shown to reduce all of these factors, more studies with lower carbs may show that it actually reduces the risk of Afib.
To know for certain whether or not keto diets increase your risk of AFib, these studies must be backed up with a randomized controlled study. One thing is certain: keto diets are not meant to be a long term solution. A balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables is the best for a healthy body. Keto should only be used to help jumpstart your weight loss.