Can you tell me whether the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA can worsen palpitations in some people? I have palpitations, and I am not sure if I should take omega 3 supplements.
Andrew Weil, M.D. | August 12, 2016
Most of the time, we’re unaware of our heartbeat. Palpitations make you briefly aware – you feel your heart pounding, racing or fluttering, sensations that you may also feel in your chest, throat or neck. While some may find these irregular beats disturbing, they’re usually harmless. In most cases, they’re triggered by stress, anxiety, or fatigue, as well as by some medications and stimulants.
I referred your question to preventive cardiologist Stephen Devries, M.D., executive director of the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology in Deerfield, IL. He agrees with me that omega 3 supplements are unlikely to cause you any problems and are safe to take.
If you’ve experienced palpitations, you know they can occur at any time, whether you’re resting, exercising, standing, sitting or lying down. When they occur occasionally and last only a few seconds, they don’t suggest any underlying heart problem. However, be sure to consult your physician if they come on frequently or worsen. You may need simple heart-monitoring to make sure that you do not have a cardiac arrhythmia that needs attention.
The most frequent causes of palpitations beyond stress, anxiety, alcohol, and strenuous exercise are stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and cocaine. Hormonal changes such as those that accompany menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, can also trigger palpitations. The medications most often responsible include diet pills, and cough and cold medications containing pseudoephedrine. (There are a lot of these on drugstore shelves; read labels before buying or check online for the ingredients in specific products.) Some asthma inhalers also contain stimulant drugs.
Fortunately, you can address palpitations easily. The best method I know is my relaxing breath. Try it:
• Sit up, with your back straight (eventually you’ll be able to do this exercise in any position).
• Place your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
• Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
• Hold your breath for a count of seven.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
• Repeat this cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Try to perform this breathing exercise at least twice a day. Repeat the whole sequence as often as you wish, but for the first month of practice, don’t do more than four breaths at one time. Once you have it down, do it as soon as you become aware of an irregular heartbeat. I also recommend that you consider taking supplemental magnesium, which helps stabilize the electrical activity of the heart. The dose is 500 mg twice a day of magnesium citrate, glycinate, or chelate. If this causes a laxative effect, add some calcium citrate to maintain normal bowel function.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Email to author from Stephen Devries, M.D., received May 18, 2016