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Ounce of Prevention | Is your heartbeat normal?

Published:Tuesday | June 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Let us look at a very important aspect of heart function the heartbeat. The human heart pumps over 100,000 times every day, or about 70 times a minute, every hour of the day, every day of the year. No man-made pump could function with this level of efficiency. We are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. However, your heart's rhythm is not always as regular as clockwork.

We all have some measure of irregularity to our heartbeats, and no one's heart rhythm is perfectly regular. Mild variations may, in fact, be associated with good overall health. Physically fit athletes, for example, have the greatest degree of heartbeat variation. However, your heart's rhythm can exceed healthy limits of variability. This condition is called an arrhythmia and a special heart test called an electrocardiogram, or ECG, can be employed to detect this irregularity.

Some arrhythmias are benign and simply an annoyance, though sometimes frightening if your heart feels as though it is jumping and racing. Others, however, can be life-threatening. How can you tell the difference? You may need to consult your doctor to identify the cause and seriousness. Sometimes, nutritional strategies are reasonable and a safe alternatives to conventional drug-based therapies. Several basic facts can help us understand whether dangers are present or we are just experiencing a harmless irregularity of the heart.


Heart rate


Normal heart rate ranges widely, depending on age, fitness level, mood, physical activity, and fluid and drug intake. The range considered normal and safe is 50-99 beats per minute. Rates at the lower end suggest fitness, as in the case of long-distance runners, although heart rate can also decline with age.


Blockage due to heart disease


Sustained rates at the high end (above 85 beats per minute) can be due to problems in the heart itself or may suggest other processes such as dehydration, thyroid disorders, infections, and anxiety.

There is a strong relationship between the heartbeat and one's emotional state. A condition of severe anxiety, called a panic attack, is often associated with a fast and sometimes irregular heartbeat.

Through all this, the heart must maintain its essential function: to pump blood throughout the body. If the heart beats too slow or too fast, or is irregular or otherwise 'out-of-sync', it may struggle to do its job. When the heart's blood output diminishes, we can become light-headed, breathless, and even lose consciousness. In the worst case, particularly if the heart is significantly abnormal, some arrhythmias can be fatal. Heart rates that are less than or greater than the normal range of 50-99 beats per minute are clearly abnormal and should be addressed by a physician.


Helping the heartbeat naturally


If your pulse is normal or you have checked with your doctor to exclude heart disease or other medical disorders, there are natural supplements that help promote a healthy heartbeat.


Omega-3 fatty acids


Inexpensive, safe and effective, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are the closest things we have to an ideal anti-arrhythmia drug specifically, the

omega-3 fatty acids, known technically as EPA and DHA. They not only sharply reduce the frequency of irregular beats, but also diminishes the likelihood of death from dangerous arrhythmias. They achieve all this without significant side effects, an advantage lacking in all the prescription anti-arrhythmia drugs.

A secondary source of omega-3 fatty acids called ALA, found in flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil. When humans ingest ALA, however, only 10 per cent of it is converted into active EPA or DHA that helps the heart.




Magnesium is a crucial nutrient that helps the proper functioning of the human body. Unfortunately, on average, we ingest far less than the daily recommended dietary allowance. Low magnesium levels promote abnormal heart rhythms.

Moreover, research has demonstrated that our average magnesium intake is dropping precipitously as we consume greater amounts of magnesium-depleted processed foods. Soft drinks are manufactured using water that is essentially devoid of magnesium. Sodas contain phosphates that prevent magnesium being absorbed in the intestinal tract. To make matters worse, more of us are drinking bottled water, and many retail brands contain little or no magnesium.

Because low magnesium tissue levels are so common, everyone with an irregular heart beat should supplement with magnesium. They should also eat lots of magnesium rich foods nuts, beans and green leafy vegetables.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a natural substance found in the mitochondria (energy generators) of the body's cells, especially the heart cells. Arrhythmias commonly occur when there is abnormal weakness of the heart muscle often associated with CoQ10 deficiency. Research has shown that CoQ10 supplementation can benefit people with weakened heart muscle. A safe, effective nutritional agent that is virtually free of side effects, CoQ10 may help lessen the long-term risk of arrhythmias.




Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is a small, native European tree whose berries, flowers and leaves have been used therapeutically since the Middle Ages as an aid in treating heart failure. Modern research suggests that it helps to reduce irregular heartbeat.

Finally, poorly managed stress is a common cause of irregular heartbeat. Practise relaxation techniques, get counselling and learn to manage stress in a healthy way.

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Dr Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention', on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.