3 Foods that Cause Heart Palpitations

Often when I write about the best and worst foods for the heart, I talk in the context of heart-healing foods that are good to eat, as well as foods that should be avoided because they fan the flames of inflammation. Those discussions focus on how the things we eat and drink every day affect heart health over the long haul.

Today, though, I want to shift gears and focus on foods (including beverages) that can have more immediate and noticeable impacts on the heart—starting with foods that can cause heart palpitations.

Why Foods Cause Heart Palpitations

Feeling palpitations after eating is a relatively common experience, which tends to occur when a substance in your food or drink—or your body’s natural biochemical response to that substance—jolts the heart’s electrical system and causes fluttering sensations, skipped beats, or a feeling that your heart is beating too hard or too fast.

Coffee drinkers, think about the last time you drank one cup too many. You know what I mean!

If your heart is healthy and you have no history of arrhythmia or heart disease—and you’re not experiencing any other symptoms—there’s little need to worry about an occasional episode of these irregular beats. For people who do have arrhythmias or cardiac issues, however, it’s a different story. Palpitations caused by food can cause an existing disruption in your heart’s rhythm to escalate, and potentially lead to a major event.

Foods That Cause Heart Palpitations: An Unholy Trinity

If you’ve had a heart attack or other cardiac event, have abnormalities in the shape or function of your heart, or have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia of some kind, I recommend staying away from foods that cause heart palpitations—especially these three:

1. Caffeinated Foods / Beverages

The research around caffeine is a little less definitive since a study released at the start of 2016 found no relationship between caffeine consumption and palpitations. However, those results don’t change the fact that caffeine revs up your sympathetic nervous system and spikes your levels of stress hormones (namely, adrenaline and cortisol), raising your blood pressure and increasing your heart rate. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, which can wash away your potassium and magnesium stores, creating an electrolyte imbalance that disrupts the heart rhythm.

In my experience, placing extra stress on the heart—as caffeine does—can aggravate existing arrhythmias or cause new ones. One of the reasons beta blockers are prescribed to heart attack patients is that they help control heart rate and prevent sudden changes in heart rate and rhythm by blunting the effect of the stress hormone adrenaline.

For those of you with healthy hearts, your daily dose of coffee, tea, or chocolate probably won’t cause any harm. Beware, though, of caffeine-containing energy drinks, which are particularly popular with young people. These drinks, which combine caffeine with large amounts of sugar, have been linked with heart palpitations, arrhythmia, heart attack, and sudden cardiac death in adolescents and young adults.

2. Sugar

In addition to creating inflammation in the body, sugar is a stimulant with the ability to cause heart palpitations. The most obvious example is when you eat too much of it at one time. Initially you feel a “sugar rush,” which can cause palpitations. Later, you may also feel them when your blood sugar comes crashing back down, often to a level lower than normal.

Eating smaller portions of sugar-filled foods each day can put you at risk for palpitations as well, because it causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar is a common cause of racing skipped heart beats. Lower your risk by minimizing sugar consumption.

3. Alcohol

The link between alcohol and heart palpitations and arrhythmia is well documented. In fact, occurrences with binge drinking are so common that there is even a name for it: Holiday Heart Syndrome. The term refers to otherwise healthy people who suffer atrial or ventricular arrhythmias (often ventricular tachycardia) when they overindulge.

Obviously, if alcohol can have such an effect on a healthy heart, anyone with compromised heart health should abstain—even if it’s just one glass of wine. The risk is just too high.

What to Do if Foods Cause You Heart Palpitations

First off, take note if you feel any additional symptoms, because those could signal that you’re experiencing more than simple palpitations. Seek emergency medical help if at any point you also have:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Profuse sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper back, arms, neck, or jaw
  • Feeling of impending doom

If it’s the first time you’ve ever noticed heart palpitations, make a follow-up appointment with your doctor. It’s likely nothing is wrong, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and make sure that the food-related episode isn’t the first sign of a bigger issue.

Next, start a log and record times when the palpitations recur. Note what you ate or drank and what sort of emotional state you were in. If specific foods or beverages tend to cause recurrences, take that as a sign you should reduce or eliminate those foods from your diet. Your body and your heart couldn’t be telling you any more clearly that those substances are doing you harm.

Opt for Healthy-Heart Foods Instead

Just as there are foods that cause heart palpitations, there are “healthy-heart” foods that may help prevent them. Here are four of my favorites:

Wild-Caught Salmon

I love wild-caught salmon—it’s one of my Sinatra Super Foods for its heart health benefits. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a calming, anti-inflammatory effect on the heart and vascular system. Omega-3s also have been shown in studies to protect against sudden cardiac death caused by arrhythmias.

Nuts and Seeds

Since one underlying cause of arrhythmia and palpitations is electrolyte imbalance, it’s a good idea to up your intake of magnesium-rich nuts and seeds. Magnesium is a key electrolyte needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, kale, chard, and other green leafy vegetables are also rich sources of magnesium and heart-healing foods.

Avocados

Avocados bring you the best of two worlds. They are good sources of magnesium, as well as potassium—another key electrolyte. You probably know bananas and citrus fruits to be a top source of potassium, but I like avocados because they also supply the body with a lot of healthy fats. Though fruits are certainly part of any healthy diet, they’re much higher in sugar.

References:

  • Anand RG. The role of fish oil in arrhythmia prevention. J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2008 Mar-Apr;28(2):92­–8.
  • Ettinger PO, et al. Arrhythmias and the “Holiday Heart”: alcohol-associated cardiac rhythm disorders. Am Heart J. 1978 May; 95(5):555–62.
  • Goldfarb M, et al. Review of published cases of adverse cardiovascular events after ingestion of energy drinks. Am J Cardiol. 2014. Jan 1;113(1):168–72.
  • Maier S. University of California–San Francisco. Regular caffeine use does not result in extra heartbeats, study shows. 26 Jan 2016. Accessed July 20, 2016.
  • Di Rocco JR, et al. Atrial fibrillation in healthy adolescents after highly caffeinated beverage consumption: two case reports. J Med Case Reports. 2011;5(1):18.
  • Scott MJ, et al. Myocardial infarction in a young adult following the consumption of a caffeinated energy drink. BMJ Case Rep. Jun 2011;2011.

© 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

 

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6 Comments

  1. herta klima

    on August 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Reply

    I like that you came quickly to the point. Some of this information comments require hours of reading before they come to the point. Of course I give early in the story up.

  2. Bill Ogden

    on August 18, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Reply

    I love to learn and am most appreciative when a teacher knows what he/she wants to say and then does a check at the end to see if the objective has been achieved. at the end of each paragraph ask your self what did I want to teach and second did i teach it?

    the method I love and appreciate the most is to ask the question followed by the answer (this way we all know what we are talking about) and we know the question and the correct answer. the important part of teaching is the “WHY” Spend the lines of the paragraph telling WHY this is the correct answer.
    take the following as an example from your article; “Foods That Cause Heart Palpitations: An Unholy Trinity” what did you want to say ? what did you want me to learn from the correct answer?
    Your paragraph should have been all about why the answer you gave is correct.
    You will not have wasted my time and you will have communicated truth from your vast knowledge,
    try it you will love it.

  3. Bill Ogden

    on August 18, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Reply

    this is the kind of teaching that generates stimulating after class conversations with students that I remember for years after

  4. Paraic Seoighe

    on August 18, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Reply

    Dr. Sinatra,
    This is very informative and helpful.
    Thanks very much.

    PS

  5. Mary Griggs

    on September 1, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Reply

    I was diagnosed with A-fib (I think “persistent”)and had an ablation three weeks ago. What can I do to make the ablation hold? I am a 59 year old female. I have cut back on caffeine. I take 400 mg of magnesium glycinate and 250 mg of magnesium taurate daily.

  6. Victoria DeLacy

    on September 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Reply

    I had palpitations when my hormones shifted during perimenopause, but found that a daily walk soon resolved that problem completely.

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