For most of us our hearts beat very regularly with the occasional extra beat. However, patients who have atrial fibrillation experience constant irregular heartbeats. What is happening is that the heart’s electrical system is out of whack. Instead of sending organized signals to cause heart muscle contraction, the electrical generator in the left atrium (called the AV node) fires off multiple signals all at once and the ventricle starts beating chaotically. Sometimes the signals can originate in other areas of the heart.
The end result is that the left atrium does not beat effectively, causing about a 25% loss of blood output. Also, since the blood doesn’t really move that well in such an atrium, clots can be formed. If a clot makes it out of the left ventricle, it can wreak havoc, especially in the brain. A stroke results if the clot blocks enough blood supply in a brain artery to kill off brain cells.
Several medications are available, which either will slow the heart rate down or try to convert the irregular beats into a normal pattern. Other medications are often used to thin the blood, so that clots won’t develop. Unfortunately, all of these medications have significant side effects, at times even deadly.
For certain patients, catheter ablation is used to permanently disable the rogue heart generator and thus allow for a regular heart rhythm. The offline generator or generators are located by electrically mapping the heart. A high energy current is then directed at the suspicious area .
However, as in any treatment, success is not 100%. A recent study looked at the benefits of a diet high in antioxidants such as red wine and fruit. It turns out that for those individuals who consumed such a diet, the risk of returning to atrial fibrillation after catheter ablation was significantly lower compared with those who did not take in a high level of antioxidants.
Now before you go out to the health store and buy antioxidants, remember the following: This is only a single study and needs to be reproduced before blanket recommendations can be made. It applies only to the risk of recurrent atrial fibrillation after catheter ablation. Also,a diet high in antioxidants is not the same as taking antioxidant tablets. In fact, there is some data that in some cases antioxidant tablets such as Vitamin A may actually increase the risk of certain cancers.