Atrial Fibrillation: Getting to the "Heart of the Matter" Part 1

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the winter of 2004, I began having chronic Afib episodes. My husband was deployed to the middle east, and It was very difficult to care for three children while being so ill. Getting my kids off to school on time seemed impossible, and more than once I almost passed out at Walmart, so grocery shopping was out of the question. Fortunately, I have been blessed with a very loving and supportive mother in law who flew to Idaho to help me recover. Since I didn't understand very much about afib, we were both on the edge trying to figure out what on earth was triggering these horrible episodes. Several months prior I had suffered two episodes that were easy to pinpoint. The first one was soon after eating a sandwich from Subway, and the other was after eating a fastfood burger. These two were a "no-brainer" to my husband and I. The cause was easy to diagnose; sodium nitrates in processed lunch meat and salty, greasy burgers lead to Atrial fibrillation. However, what I didn't realize was that even the salt in canned food was a trigger to afib. One evening my mother-in-law made a pot of delicious chili, and the moment I swallowed my last spoonful at the dinner table, my heart began rapidly palpitating. The cause, my potassium levels were so dangerously low, that any slight elevation of sodium in my diet would make my heart act crazy. That episode following the bowl of chili was the beginning of my no-salt journey, and trying to solve my afib dilemma. During those years, my heart became so sensitive that even the chicken breasts that are sold in the grocery store became off-limits. Most stores preserve the chicken in a sodium broth which makes the chicken salty even after it has been rinsed and thoroughly cooked. I now see that my over sensitivity to salt stemmed from a potassium deficiency, and looking back, I realize I made my health condition worse by not consuming any salt at all. I should have looked into obtaining an all-natural sea salt in addition to a high potassium diet. But back then I did not realize how necessary sodium is for sustaining health; as long as that sodium is natural, void of chemicals and full of minerals. I have humorous story to demonstrate the difference between regualar table salt and an all-natural sea salt. I will call it the Fred-Flintstone-feet-sodium-syndrome-story. After gaining more knowledge about the sodium potassium balance from my doctor, I became less fearful of salt and started adding a little table salt to my diet. I noticed, almost immediately, that I was developing a serious case of edema. Overnight my ankles grew to look like Flintstone feet. They were so swollen and huge that I could barely walk. I am not exaggerating either! Now, several months later, I have thrown out the table salt and rely strictly on sea salt. The best part is the sea salt helps my potassium levels without causing any swelling in my feet or ankles. When I say the majority of my diet is unsalted, that includes everything, even down to the unsalted canned tomatoes in the cupboard. The only salt I am consuming is the sea salt that I add to the food afterwards. This may sound a bit extreme, but there are over 30 harmful chemicals in regular table salt, and this same salt is in most of the available packaged foods. Currently I use a all natural sodium called Celtic Sea salt, which has vital minerals in it. It was 10 dollars for a 1lb bag at the Boise Co-op. There are less expessive sea salts out there, but unfortunately they have added chemicals and are almost void of minerals. I have heard some say that they need to use the regular table salt in order to get iodine. I realize how important idodine is, but there are many other food sources of idodine available that one does not have to compromise their health to obtain it.

Last year I began seeing a naturpath doctor. After doing various tests, including blood work, he observed that I truly did have a sodium and potassium deficiency. He recommended that I begin using a good quality sea salt. My brother Paul, who studied chemistry also explained that my heart goes out of rhythm on a hot day because I am losing salt. He has had a lot of experience with potassium by being my Dad's caregiver since his heart attack. My wonderful Dad is 87 and is thriving under Paul's care.

I was puzzled by this at first, but bear with me, and you'll see how the dots connect on this Afib mystery. Last Spring, I finally found a doctor that had the answers I was seeking. He explained, "Our bodies are half sodium

and half potassium." Hearing that from my doctor made me realize one of causes of my illness, I was very imbalanced in my sodium-potassium levels. Potassium's main role in the heart is to help keep the beats steady and in perfect rhythm, while magnesium's role is to calm the heart muscle. This keeps it from becoming too rapid and irratic, thus preventing a heart attack. Both are crucially important for the heart, however the body needs around 4700 mg a day of potassium, while it only requires around 400 mg per day of magnesium. Those with a magnesium deficiency often have trouble sleeping and have muscle spasms. Calcium is also very important for the heart, but I will explain that another time. The main thing to remember is without enough potassium within the heart muscle itself, and not just in your blood stream, the heart cannot stay in rhythm. I read further that both sodium and potassium are electrical ions. Afib is the result of a damaged electrical system within the heart, and the heart needs these ions functioning smoothly and in perfect balance. Drinking the right amount of water aids this process, allowing the ions to travel smoothly back and forth between the heart pacer cells. However, a lack of water, too much sodium, msg, sodium nitrates, too many carbs at one time, and caffeine all cause these ions to bump or to not flow smoothly. This creates an imbalance in the electrolytes, which in turn, causes the potassium to move outside of the heart cells, resulting in Afib. Just to show how electrical our heart is, I will share an experience I had last year. I was taking my doctors prescribed potassium capsules, but I wasn't eating properly or drinking enough water, so instead of correcting my habits, I wanted a quick fix, so I decided (without my doctor's advice) to increase my potassium from 300 mg per day to 600 mg per day. Not a good idea. At first, it seemed to work because my episodes were so much shorter, but then I couldn't stay in rhythm at all. I didn't realize that I was overdoing the potassium. For some reason, I just wasn't getting it. Then the Lord intervened, and my husband had a dream. In this dream the light in our daughter's bedroom had burned out. I was the one who insisted on changing the light bulb. He tried to help me but I wouldn't listen. I insisted on putting a very high wattage bulb in a fixture that was made for only 60 or less. He warned me that it was too much wattage and that I would burn it out. My husband doesn't put much stock in dreams, so he rarely shares them with me. I am grateful that he did share the "lightbulb dream" with me, it may have saved my life. I believe the dream was God's way of protecting me, and the message came across loud and clear, "Quit putting too much wattage (potassium) into your heart!"

Perhaps you are wondering what caused my potassium deficiency in the first place? Well, when I first realized that my heart was lacking potassium, I did what alot of people who are battling illness do. I did searches on the internet. I had already tried the heart medications, digoxin and flecainide and even coumadin, only to find they made my illness worse and harder to bear. The digoxin made me feel like I had a brick on my heart, especially when I was lying down, and made me retain a lot of fluid. The flecainide made my heart go in and out of rhythm CONSTANTLY, and the Coumadin (blood thinner) gave me a whole new arrhythmia that I had never before experienced. It gave me tachycardia episodes that felt like heart attacks. Back to my internet searches, one day I stumbled upon a story about a lady who's child was experiencing Afib. She did what a good, smart mom would do, she made him broth with lots of veggies. This potassium broth, as she called it, cured them immediately. I figured that sounded simple enough. My wonderful, supportive husband responded by doing lots and lots and lots of grocery shopping. Did I mention lots? I wasn't exaggerating! We could have stock in Walmart and Paul's Market for all the groceries he has purchased in the last few years. I noticed that this potassium broth seemed to be the cure for me too. Only now I had a greater challenge than the lady with the sick child. My heart had become damaged, remodeled from all the years of episodes, and trust me, I have had thousands of episodes, each lasting 8, 12 and even 50 hours long. My most common length in recent years has been around 24 hours. So when I meet someone who has Afib, I know the suffering involved. This is why I so urgently want to help others get the answers that have taken me years to discover. A discovery I never would have made without the help of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who cares and upholds my life and yours. The great trouble with Afib is that it is quite damaging to the heart and episodes do become more frequent over time. After doing all the broth and other nutrient dense foods, and still having episodes I began to despair, I could not understand why my heart was not holding onto all the potassium I was giving it. I mean, I even slow cooked lima beans and ate tomato paste out of the can just to boost my potassium. Certainly, this new diet (especially the soup made from scratch) helped to stabilize my heart until: I would go outside on a very warm day or I do alot of housework, then my heart would act up again. I had many tests performed on my heart including a heart ultrasound to prove that my valves were normal. So what was causing these episodes? Clearly, I had lone Atrial fib, and not a heart condition in addition to the Afib, something which is common in older people. I was just about ready to give up when a friend gave me a book called Nutritional Healing, and there is where I discovered the root cause. I will summarize, "Taurine is one of the main amino acids that is found within the heart. One of its main roles is to protect the heart from potassium loss. The body can synthesize taurine from foods like eggs, and meat but it cannot synthesize taurine if you have a B6 deficiency." I had to get to the bottom of this, so I looked up vitamin B6, and it listed some of the signs of a B6 deficiency. Sure enough, I had the signs of a B6 deficiency, cracks in the corners of the mouth. Could it be that this is the root cause of Atrial fib in most people? Could it be that those with Afib are deficient in taurine and B6, rendering the heart unable to hold onto potassium like it should? I could now see that this potassium which is so vital for preventing cardiac arrhythmias does not stand on its own, it needs other nutrients to hold it in place.

Armed with these new answers, I have a renewed hope that together, the Lord and I, can beat this enemy. I pray that others with Afib will have this hope as well.

Jesus said it best in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy, but I am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly." The Lord has graciously led me to the answers I need. And my supportive husband, well he went shopping AGAIN. This time he found me a B complex that has Taurine in it along with B6 at The Vitamin Shoppe in Boise.

Now that I have the tools I need, the sea salt with its life giving minerals, the Taurine with vitamin B capsules, and a kitchen full of nourishing food, I am ready to begin this fight again. Time to take a break from the writing and get to work on restoring my heart. I will write again to let you know how successful these new discoveries have been.