Booze, Coffee and Irregular Heart Rhythm

If you are an avid aficionado of fresh coffee and tea and/or have a taste for a good pint of beer and a glass of fine wine, that strange sudden and brief palpitations you feel in your chest may have been a case of irregular heart rhythm –  known medically as atrial fibrillation or AFib (of which can lead to stroke)– that caffeine and alcohol are known to cause, as suggested by a recent study.


What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

While AFib is sometimes silent and unfelt by some people, others may experience unpleasant and unsettling palpitations around the chest area or a racing and irregular heartbeat likened to skipped heartbeats. Some sufferers experience AFib round the clock, and in others, the symptom comes and goes, otherwise known as being paroxysmal.

In a typical episode of AFib, the heart’s two upper chambers, called atriums, experience irregular and fast beatings that quivering like vibrating gelatin, according to the American Heart Association. As such, the heart cannot beat properly and thus, not able to deliver oxygenated blood to the rest of the body effectively.

For the heart to not be able to deliver oxygenated blood effectively to other parts of the body can lead to serious problems such as stroke and heart failure. Treatments of AFib include medication to help regulate heart rate or heart rhythm, blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming that may lodge themselves in certain arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes, and in certain cases, electric shocks are activated to reset the beat of the heart with electrical defibrillators.


What are the Triggers of AFib?

In a recent study published in the journal Heart Rhythm, the researchers surveyed more than 1,000 patients with paroxysmal AFib and found that drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages and exercise were the most common triggers of arrhythmia.

The researchers surveyed people based on 11 likely triggers, namely alcohol, caffeine, exercise and non-exercise, sleep deprivation, drinking cold drinks, eating cold foods, eating large meals, high sodium diet, dehydration, and lying on the left side.

About 75 per cent of the survey participants expressed that at least one of those 11 behaviours caused AFib sometimes or all of the time, with alcohol consumption cited by 35 per cent of them, coffee-drinking at 28 per cent, exercise 23 per cent and sleep deprivation 21 per cent. However, the researchers maintain that there is a possibility that these behaviours are not the actual triggers but that they make the symptoms worse.

The study was not designed to determine if reducing these triggers would reduce the frequency and regularity of AFib episodes.

Many of these triggers, if not most of them, are modifiable. Theoretically, sufferers of AFib possess some ability to potentially influence the likelihood of an episode occurring.

The information reported in the survey proved that AFib is a condition people can actually act on, in which sufferers of episodic atrial fibrillation that seems to be triggered by consuming alcohol or caffeine, for instance, can avoid them and control the condition.


More Research is Needed

While the relationship between alcohol and AFib is well-known, the link between coffee and AFib, however, is controversial. There exist disputes and disagreements between experts in the association, although it has been observed in coffee-drinking patients.

Experts have also noted that while exercising regularly is a healthy behaviour, embarking on a strenuous exercise after a long period of not exercising and without physical conditioning has been known to cause heart arrhythmias. So before you, filled with a new-found ambition to shed excess pounds, jump on the HIIT (high-intensity interval training) regime that make you go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds like a supercar but with a rusty 20 year-old engine, check with your doctor on what’s the safest way for you to get there.

Although there had been much research dedicated to finding the root cause of AFib, as opposed to its triggers, there has not been enough research in the area of understanding why an episode of AFib happens.


Caffeine and Alcohol Values

Generally, strong evidence suggests that moderate coffee consumption of about 4 cups a day or approximately 400mg, depending on coffee beans and brewing method, is safe and may even be beneficial to health for an otherwise healthy individual. A cup of espresso-based coffee such as espresso, cafe latte, cappuccino and Americano can pack as much as 200mg of caffeine, so you may want to go easy on those. If you are happy with local Nanyang coffee, you get to enjoy more of it since it contains about 100mg of caffeine for a standard cup.

A cup of tea made from Camellia sinensis tea leaves contains 14 to 70mg of caffeine. Teas not made with the leaves, such as chrysanthemum, chamomile teas and chai, generally do not contain caffeine.

For the booze lovers, the alcohol calculation becomes just as fuzzy as you after a night out at the bar, and you should do the computing before you head out since you will be working with percentages.

A “standard” pint of beer contains about 14-20g of alcohol, or about 5%. The popular craft beers you see more often nowadays can sometimes approach 5-15% in alcohol content, so you will need to be careful when you order.

A seemingly innocent glass of wine stands at 12-15% of alcohol content.