Blood Sugar Affects Heart Rhythm

February 18, 2019 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Blood Sugar Affects Heart Rhythm
An estimated 2.7 - 6.1 million people have atrial fibrillation (AFib), according to the CDC. The majority of those who have atrial fibrillation are 65 and older. In fact, nearly one out of ten seniors has AFib. One of the major risk factors for AFib is diabetes. More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. The current population in the USA at the time of this writing is over 328 million. That means about one out of three individuals in America has measureable blood sugar dysfunction. Similar concerns exist with other countries across the globe.

As the number of people with diabetes increase and the population ages, more individuals are likely to develop AFib as a consequence of the elevated blood sugar. It is important to recognize that elevated blood sugar affects the heart. It is even more critical to do something now rather than passive healthcare. The more that we can do now to help keep our blood sugar, weight and metabolism healthy, the better off our heart will be.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder that affects the rhythm or beat of the heart. It may not always cause recognizable symptoms until it’s accidentally discovered in an examination. AFib symptoms include a fast, racing, or irregular heartbeat, or a sensation like the heart is flip-flopping in your chest. Fatigue, weakness, light headedness, dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, chest pain, and reduced ability to exercise are other symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic. The concerns can be episodic, last for hours, or even persist long-term.

Other risk factors for AFib besides elevated blood sugar and diabetes includes age, high blood pressure, obesity, heart failure, alcohol use, chronic kidney disease, and ischemic heart disease. Medical treatment generally focuses on drugs, electrical shock treatments/cardioversion and ablation surgery.

Elevated Blood Sugar Symptoms

Diabetes may not cause symptoms until much later in the disease progression. Symptoms may include increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, darkening of the skin in arm pits and around the neck, and slow healing sores.

The AFib and Diabetes Connection

Heart rhythm and cardiac nerves are impacted by blood sugar levels. Many who have type 2 diabetes develop concerns with atrial fibrillation. Not all individuals with AFib have type 2 diabetes and not all type 2 diabetics have AFib, but there is enough of a cross-over that has researchers looking at the connection. We can now further understand how elevated blood sugar affects the heart rhythm.

Elevated blood sugar levels impact nerve tissue throughout the body. This is why diabetics often develop neuropathy in their feet. In the case of the heart, unhealthy blood sugar stresses the autonomic nervous system and the nerves that conduct electrical impulses within the heart. This can lead to remodeling of tissues that changes function.

It can occur within the structure of the heart, the electrical conduction system, and affect how the mechanical and electrical function of the heart works together. High blood sugar levels also stress the parasympathetic (rest/relax) and sympathetic (fight/flight) autonomic nervous system that influences heart rate, nerve conduction and contractility.

Changes to the heart’s rhythmic function stems from insulin resistance, injury to the delicate, inner endothelial lining of the blood vessels, changes in blood flow and plaque build-up. It becomes a larger issue with an unhealthy remodeling of the structure, electrical, electromechanical, and autonomic nervous system. High blood sugar is a type of repetitive strain to the heart’s conduction system as oxidative stress hammers away at various parts of the heart.

If we delve into the blood sugar repetitive strain effect a little further, we see that the oxidative stress affects the atrium of the heart. Oxidative stress from elevated blood sugar leads to advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs make tissues stiff.

This pattern is commonly seen with vision, kidney, and nerve damage in diabetics. In patients with diabetes and AFib, there is stiffening of both the left and right atria and remodeling of the heart neurochemical conduction system which uses significant amounts of the neurochemical choline or acetylcholine.

Other Effects of High Blood Sugar on the Heart

Elevated blood sugar impacts the heart in other ways regardless of other factors. Diabetics are more likely to experience atrial flutter, left ventricular hypertrophy, coronary artery disease, and chronic heart failure.

Mitochondria, the cellular energy producers within the heart and nerves, are injured by high blood sugar, AGEs, and the oxidative stress associated with diabetes. Length and severity of diabetes is directly linked with risk. The longer and more severe one has had diabetes, the more likely the heart takes a toll.

Even if one goes through some of the more aggressive medical treatments for atrial fibrillation, individuals who are overweight or obese with metabolic syndrome are more likely to experience recurrence of the heart rhythm abnormalities.

Helping Your Body

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that is preventable and even reversible early on when appropriate care is given to the human body. Inclusion of physical activity, nutrient dense foods, adequate, quality sleep and regular schedules, and stress management are daily needs. Anyone with a blood sugar level that is trending high, needs to work on their blood sugar and heart health before the body tips over a threshold where it can no longer bounce back. Indeed “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

The more that we can keep our blood sugar levels healthy, the better off heart health will be. A healthy, optimal fasting morning blood sugar is between 65-85. Likewise, a healthy hemoglobin A1C level is 5.7 or lower. An A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent indicates prediabetes. An A1C level over 6.5 percent indicates diabetes.

Physical activity, stretching, chiropractic care, yoga, prayer, and meditation all healthfully support the autonomic nervous system. Consider incorporating these activities into your regular routine to support the parasympathetic nervous system and counterbalance the sympathetic nervous system that is stress overloaded in diabetes and in cardiac disorders.

The Leptin Diet offers a simple lifestyle way of eating by getting back to the basics that helps support healthy blood sugar and metabolism. Many fad diets restrict food groups, require challenging food preparation or encourage patterns that interfere with leptin. Take a look at The Five Rules of the Leptin Diet. You will see that it is a common sense approach that goes back to the basics and is backed by science

Additional resources on blood sugar, heart health, and other important connections may be found at

Insulin, Leptin, and Blood Sugar - Why Diabetic Medications Fail

Statin Drugs Cause Atherosclerosis and Heart Failure 

Heart Rate Variability – Why You Should Know Yours 

Periodontal Diseae Linked with Diabetes and Heart Healths 

Low Adiponectin Links Blood Sugar Problems and Heart Disease 

At no other time in the history of mankind have we had such vast concerns with blood sugar, unhealthy metabolism, and heart health challenges. Taking insulin or other diabetic medications and cardiac ablation are treatments for end-stage function. They are a necessary treatment for exhausted, broken bodies. Ideally though, the time to help the body is before it becomes a life-threatening situation that requires massive intervention. What are you going to do for your metabolism and heart today?

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