Common Causes of Irregular Heart Rhythms

Several foods and supplements can alter the heart’s electrical system and trigger heart rhythm disorders. Keep your heart in sync with this quick guide.

Caffeine: You’re probably well aware that coffee can cause erratic or rapid heartbeats. It can also lead to atrial fibrillation in susceptible people. Some feel palpitations when they consume caffeinated soda, tea, or chocolate.

Overeating: For some individuals over-indulging at the buffet table may cause symptoms. Why? A full stomach can irritate nearby nerves, stimulating the heart and triggering extra heartbeats.

Red Wine: Small amounts of alcohol, particularly red wine, can benefit the heart. In excess, however, alcohol may cause heart arrhythmias and “holiday heart,” or palpitations on Monday after a weekend binge.

Supplements: It’s impossible to say which dietary supplements can potentially affect the heartbeat (or interfere with heart medicines) because most are unregulated and untested. “Natural” does not mean “safe,” and consumers can unknowingly take products that contain hidden and potentially harmful ingredients. Diet pills can be especially dangerous. For example, the FDA warned last October that 20 brands of dietary supplements for weight loss were tainted with sibutramine—the active ingredient in prescription weight-loss drug Meridia that was linked to elevated blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, heart attacks, and stroke and removed from the U.S. market in 2010.