The occasional flutter…a missed beat…an unusual thump. For some people, an irregularity in heartbeat, called cardiac arrhythmia, signals only a minor glitch in the heart’s complex internal electrical system. But in other cases, it indicates a serious electrical malfunction that can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormally fast and irregular heartbeat—and that can in turn be associated with heart failure, stroke or even sudden death.

Good news: In many cases, nutritional deficiencies cause or contribute to arrhythmias—and addressing those deficiencies with the appropriate dietary supplements can help correct or minimize the heart problem!

I asked Michael Traub, ND, director of the Ho’o Lokahi integrative health care center in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, and a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, to explain what arrhythmia patients need to know about nutritional therapies…


Dr. Traub emphasized that it is important for patients, regardless of the severity of their arrhythmias, to seek medical attention—because this is a potentially serious condition that you should not try to treat on your own. When it comes to your heart, supplements are not a do-it-yourself matter.

But that’s not to say you should be hasty in accepting whatever medical treatment is first recommended to you. Here’s why: Often patients are prescribed anti-arrhythmia drugs, yet these can have side effects (such as chest pain, fainting, blurred vision and even worsening of arrhythmia). Or they are told that they need cardiac ablation (a procedure to scar or destroy heart tissue that is triggering the abnormal heart rhythm) or surgical implantation of a heartbeat-regulating pacemaker, yet these carry a risk for infection, poor wound healing, damage to blood vessels, blood clots and other complications. So it just makes sense to explore whether the nutritional approach is appropriate for you, either as an alternative or as a complement to conventional treatment. (Important: If you already take medication for arrhythmia, do not stop on your own—this could have very serious consequences.)

To find out whether nutritional therapies are right for you, consult a naturopathic physician or a functional medical doctor experienced in treating arrhythmias. One of the doctor’s first steps may be to order blood tests to see what’s going on inside your body at the micronutrient level—because your levels of certain nutrients can have a direct impact on your heart rhythm.

For patients with cardiac arrhythmias, Dr. Traub said, it’s especially important to check for deficiencies of magnesium and potassium…and the ratio between the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid and the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), because too high a ratio is bad for your heart. You should also be tested for the amino acid homocysteine because high levels are associated with increased risk for heart disease and arrhythmias.

The two most common deficiencies in patients with arrhythmias are magnesium and EPA. Potassium deficiency is not as common, but your potassium level should be checked because deficiency is associated with higher risk for atrial fibrillation.


Based on your blood test results, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate supplements in the proper dosages to correct your nutritional deficiencies and address other factors that can contribute to arrhythmias. The supplements Dr. Traub typically prescribes for his arrhythmia patients include one or more of the following…

Magnesium. This mineral relaxes blood vessel walls and improves blood flow. Magnesium is so effective at helping regulate heart rhythm that it is often given to patients in the hospital to reduce the risk for atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrest.

Potassium. This is known to improve and stabilize the pumping action of the heart. It protects against ventricular and atrial fibrillation…it also is used as a treatment for congestive heart failure.

Fish oil. Several years ago, some studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids reduced fatal ventricular arrhythmias, although more recent studies have not confirmed these findings. Still, because omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on heart health, Dr. Traub believes that fish oil is an important part of a natural anti-arrhythmia regimen. Caution: Since fish oil is an anticoagulant, its use must be medically supervised in patients who take blood-thinning medication.

Lumbrokinase. This enzyme is similar to the better-known nattokinase (made from fermented soybeans). Lumbrokinase is derived from the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus—but don’t be put off by that, Dr. Traub said, because it works even better than nattokinase to inhibit the formation of blood clots. Like fish oil, lumbrokinase should be taken only with a doctor’s OK by anyone who is on a pharmaceutical blood thinner.

Hawthorn. This herb contains antioxidants that are thought to improve blood flow.

B vitamins. If your homocysteine levels are high, your doctor may prescribe supplements of vitamins B-6, B-12 and/or B-9 (folate) to bring your levels into normal range.

What to avoid: Patients with arrhythmias should not take iodine supplements because they can bring about hyperthyroidism, which worsens arrhythmia. Caffeine—whether from food, beverages or supplements—also should be avoided because the stimulant can interfere with heart rhythms.

Also helpful for arrhythmia patients: It’s best to limit alcohol intake…not smoke…get enough sleep…stay adequately hydrated…eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables…and take steps to effectively manage stress. These lifestyle choices can make a significant difference when it comes to easing arrhythmias.