Atrial Fibrillation Linked to Stress, Diabetes, Dental Health, and Gut Health

June 17, 2019 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Atrial Fibrillation Linked to Stress, Diabetes, Dental Health, and Gut Health
Is oxidative stress an underling source of your heart’s atrial fibrillation? For many individuals, the answer may very well be - yes. The follow-up question is where is the source? There are many sources of oxidative stress that may be unrelated to the out of sync “lub-dub” rhythms of your heart. Ongoing research has found links between oxidative stress and inflammation and how it affects and even remodels the structure and neurology of the heart atria.

Scientists predict epidemic levels of atrial fibrillation in the next 10-20 years. With modern health care and technology, why are there more cases of atrial fibrillation? Is it better awareness or is there a connection with how inflamed and stressed your body has become?

Atrial Fibrillation Risk Factors: New and Old


Traditional risk factors for atrial fibrillation (a-fib) include alcohol use, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve disease, heart failure, and ischemic heart disease. More recent research has focused on mitochondrial injury and atrial fibrillation which is linked with oxidative stress and inflammation.

Although atrial fibrillation is considered a heart problem, the source of oxidative stress and inflammation that trigger and contribute to the heart disorder has expanded. Diabetes, obesity, dental issues, gut problems, and job stress are some of the newly recognized risks and sources of oxidative stress and inflammation that may lead to atrial fibrillation.

Diabetes and Obesity


Research on diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, and elevated cholesterol) has brought a wealth of information on oxidative stress and inflammation. These concerns are linked with increased levels of many types of free radicals which is a driving force for mitochondrial and tissue injury. The heart muscle and heart electrical system contain high amounts of mitochondria as these tissues have extreme energy demands. The concern is that mitochondria are very sensitive to stressors like blood sugar levels and inflammation.

When blood sugar levels are high like in diabetes coupled with the inflammation of obesity, the internal workings and cellular structure of mitochondria become stressed and injured. The mitochondria themselves produce more free radicals in the heart. As these conditions persist, excess free radical production continues to occur within heart mitochondria.

Eventually, enough cellular damage has occurred to the muscle and nerves within the heart, which causes remodeling of the heart atria. This change in shape and function of the muscle and nerves leads to atrial fibrillation. If there is a lack of antioxidants, or blood sugar levels are poorly managed, then the inflammatory stress is worsened with more damaging effects.

Periodontal Disease


Periodontal disease and poor dental health have been linked to various cardiovascular concerns like heart attack, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis, but there is another link. A small number of studies describe an increased susceptibility to atrial fibrillation with periodontal disease. Why is this important to know and understand for you and your heart? Periodontal disease creates considerable amounts of toxic oxidative stress.

Human studies confirmed that a higher number of patients with atrial fibrillation or heart flutter have periodontal disease than those who don’t. Periodontal disease creates significant inflammation throughout the body. Once the inflammatory-immune compounds enter the blood stream from infected teeth, gum tissues and even hidden sources like old root canals, the toxins travel through the blood stream and affect other tissue like heart atria. These compounds trigger oxidative stress and inflammation to the tissues and mitochondria which then causes damage to the structure and the electrical system in the atria. The result is atrial fibrillation.

Gut and A-Fib


Your gastrointestinal tract is another source of inflammation implicated in the development of atrial fibrillation, although it is considered a less common cause at this time. Gastrointestinal disorders certainly cause inflammation in the gut, but they also create systemic inflammation. In celiac disease, Crohn’s, and ulcerative colitis, changes in heart rhythm or atria structure can occur. Once gut inflammation is brought under control, heart symptoms frequently improve.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and gastritis have been linked with atrial fibrillation, but results vary in different populations. The link appears to be an oxidative stress response with the vagus nerve or cranial nerve 10. This big nerve is connected to the digestive tract and heart from the brain and is part of the autonomic nervous system.

Any type of high stress changes the tone of the autonomic nervous from rest and relax (parasympathetic) to fight/flight (sympathetic) and can worsen GERD and gastritis. Make it a goal to support the rest and relax autonomic nervous system to aid in healthy digestion and heart rhythm. You can learn more about this in the articles Gut and Memory Neurotransmitter Linked and Heart Rate Variability – Why You Should Know Yours.

Gut infections also contribute to atrial fibrillation. Inflammation caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) a common bacterial infection can lead a disturbance in the heart rhythm. H. pylori is also linked with the GERD, gastritis and ulcers.

A few preclinical studies suggest that there is a link with an imbalanced gut microbiome and atrial fibrillation. This is in addition to the H. pylori risk. Some gastrointestinal cancers are also linked with the development of atrial fibrillation.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) which are commonly used medications to treat gastritis and ulcers can increase risk of atrial fibrillation. PPIs block the absorption of many nutrients like magnesium which is needed by the heart.

Alcohol and Job Stress


Alcohol intake is a well-known risk factor for A-fib even in moderate amounts. Alcohol intake triggers the sympathetic autonomic nervous system. With chronic intake, it repetitively stresses and stimulates the fight-flight nervous system which can change the shape of the atria.

Job strain and long work hours also cause high levels of wear-and-tear, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Both situations have been linked with atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often too fast heartbeat. Individuals may not always feel the change in heart rate, but there may be other symptoms you may feel. Fatigue, decreased exercise ability, lightheadedness, and dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, and chest pain may be present. Symptoms may come and go or may last for an extended period requiring medical intervention. Medical treatment primarily focuses on medications or cardiac ablation therapy.

My goal with this article is to help you dig deeper. Patients are offered treatments once the diagnosis has been made, but underlying questions of what the triggers are remain. Just like the legendary story about the apple falling from the tree which inspired young Sir Isaac Newton to investigate gravity, so too should you investigate further.

If you have a concern of diabetes and/or obesity, take steps to get it under control as best as you can. The same dedication is needed for gut health, dental health, blood pressure, and other stressors that affect mitochondria, oxidative stress and free radical levels.

Even if you don’t have any significant related health concern, but you feel strained from your job, then focus on healthy lifestyle choices and stress management. Commit yourself to making good choices every day. Even if you are far down the path of declining health, doing something today to take charge of your health is better than not doing anything at all.

You may find further information about related topics in the resources below.

Proton Pump Inhibitors Lead to C Diff, SIBO, Dementia, and Heart Attacks

Blood Sugar Affects Heart Rhythm  

How to Eat for Blood Sugar Health

Getting Started on The Leptin Diet  

The Five Rules of The Leptin Diet

Elevated Leptin, Autoimmune Disorders, and Chronic Inflammation

Insufficient Magnesium – Public Health Crisis Declared 

Common Medications That Rob the Body of Nutrients

Periodontal Disease Linked with Diabetes and Heart Health 

Fosamax Linked to Atrial Fibrillation 

Adaptogens, Stress, and the HPA Axis 

Western Diet Causes Cycle of Brain Damage and Obesity 

Gluten Intolerance: What Does It Look Like? 

Stress Induced Burnout: The Path Back to Happiness 


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