Herbal supplements may trigger dangerous heart rhythm disorders

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

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Around a fifth of the global population use herbal supplements, yet up to 70 percent of patients withhold this information from their primary health provider. A growing number of case studies, however, emphasise the pressing need for caution when taking some herbal pills. Clinical studies have warned that supplements such as bitter orange, omega-3 and ephedra could trigger dangerous heart rhythm disorders.

This information is important in light of data published earlier this year, showing cases of AF have significantly risen in the last two decades.

A study in April established that the heart condition, which is a major cause of stroke, increased by 72 percent in that time.

This means it now outnumbers the combined number of people diagnosed with the most common types of cancer, or heart disease.

Doctor Yassir Javid, Clinical lead for cardiovascular disease prevention at East Midlands Clinical Networks, commented: “These new data are highly concerning.

“AF is a proven precursor for stroke – which, as we know, can have devastating effects on individuals and their families.

“I ask that at the first sign you might think that your heart has fluttered, or the rhythm becomes irregular, or something feels different, you book an appointment with your GP.

“I want to reassure people that you can live a normal and active life post-diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.

“If AF is left undiagnosed, the risk of stroke and other complications can be very high so don’t delay getting a diagnosis if you have any suspicion.”

The condition is closely linked to other markers of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and sleep apnea, but recently the role of supplements has been thrown into question.

A California-based cardiologist recently sounded the alarm after noticing an increasing number of patients in their 20s taking herbal supplements.

In an interview with Insider, the health practitioner said she had noticed the pattern emerge in patients taking herbal pills such as bitter orange and ephedra.

Some of these over-the-counter supplements, such as ephedra, were banned by the FDA in 2004, due to having problematic side effects.

Despite not being sold commercially, reports of their use are still common, as the pills are purported to help treat conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and hay fever.

Evidence proving their efficacy to treat these conditions, however, remains scant.

Both supplements have been linked to heart rhythm disorders in case studies and other clinical research, however.

The health practitioner had noted a trend in patients with heart arrhythmias gravitating towards supplements as alternative therapies.

WebMD has previously warned that taking bitter oranges, particularly alongside caffeine, can increase the heart rate in healthy people.

Similar effects could occur when mixing fish oil with blood thinners, as was demonstrated in a study published in Circulation last year.

Based on this discovery, the researchers established that a forewarning might be necessary when prescribing marine omega-3 supplements to patients.

Question marks have emerged for several other herbal supplements in recent decades, so patients are also encouraged to seek approval from their doctor before taking new herbal remedies.

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