• Two separate studies released this week linked nut and coffee consumption to heart rhythm irregularity prevention. (Westend61/Getty Images)
Two separate studies, released this week, offer key nutritional advice on what we should be eating and drinking to protect the rhythm of our hearts.
By
Yasmin Noone

20 Apr 2018 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2018 - 11:33 AM

If eating lots of nuts and drinking up to three coffees a day sounds like music to your ears, then you’re in luck. New research shows that eating nuts regularly and drinking moderate amounts of caffeine may help the rhythm of your heart.

Two separate studies, linking what we put in our mouth to heart rhythm irregularities, were released this week.

The first study from Sweden shows that eating nuts several times a week may help reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) and possibly heart failure. While research from Australia claims that drinking up to three cups of coffee a day may be safe for people with AF. 

An abnormal heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia. Both pieces of research draw attention to the common heart rhythm condition, atrial fibrillation.

AF causes the heart to beat rapidly and skip beats. If left untreated, AF can lead to fatigue, blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. The Stroke Foundation estimates that AF impacts 400,000 Australians.

In 2014, almost 330,000 Australians aged over 55 years had AF. More men than women had the condition. Based on these statistics from a Medical Journal of Australia paper published in 2015, it’s estimated that the number of people with AF will rise to over 600,000 by 2034.

Here’s two new pieces of health advice to help protect the rhythm of your heart.

It’s estimated that the number of people with AF will rise to over 600,000 by 2034.

Go nuts

The more nuts you eat, the lower your risk of the risk of developing AF, according to the study published online in the journal Heart.

The study, from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, shows that for every additional portion of nuts you eat during the week, you could be actively reducing your AF risk by four per cent.

The researchers made the finding after observing the cardiovascular health of over 61,000 Swedish 45-83 year olds over 17 years (or until death, whichever came first).

Their efforts revealed that nut consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and abdominal aortic aneurysm.

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Eating a serving of nuts one-to-three times a month lowered risk by three percent. This figure rose to 12 percent when participants ate nuts once or twice a week. The biggest impact however was shown when participants ate nuts three or more times a week, lowering their risk of AF by 18 percent.

Nuts are a rich source of healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which may aid cardiovascular health.

“Nut consumption or factors associated with this nutritional behaviour may play a role in reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation and possibly heart failure,” the study reads.

“Since only a small proportion of this population had moderate (about five per cent) or high (less than two per cent) nut consumption, even a small increase in nut consumption may have large potential to lead to a reduction in incidence of atrial fibrillation and heart failure in this population.”

The scientists also found that nut fans may be reducing their chances of heart failure, although those results were less conclusive, they authors say.

“Nut consumption or factors associated with this nutritional behaviour may play a role in reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation and possibly heart failure."

So coffee is a good thing?

Australian shows that a single cup of coffee, containing about 95mg of caffeine, acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Once in the body, caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a chemical that can facilitate AF.

The review, published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiologyeven suggests that drinking up to three cups of coffee a day may be safe for people with arrhythmia. The researchers observed that caffeine doses up to 500 mg daily (equivalent to six cups of coffee) did not increase the severity or rate of ventricular arrhythmias.

“Although there is no clearly defined threshold for caffeine harm, a regular intake of up to 300 mg/day appears to be safe and may even be protective against heart rhythm disorders.”

“Large-scale population-based studies and randomised controlled trials suggest coffee and tea are safe and may even reduce the incidence of arrhythmia,” the study conducted by Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and University of Melbourne, reads. “Although there is no clearly defined threshold for caffeine harm, a regular intake of up to 300 mg/day appears to be safe and may even be protective against heart rhythm disorders.”

The findings challenge the belief that too much coffee can trigger a heart rhythm problem.

“Many clinicians continue to counsel patients with atrial or VAs to avoid all caffeinated beverages, particularly coffee, despite an absence of evidence to support this approach.”

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However, the authors note that different people may have different susceptibilities to the effects of caffeine, which could trigger an arrhythmia. "If, in individual cases where a clear temporal association between arrhythmia episodes and caffeine intake is apparent, then avoidance is sensible."

The researchers say energy drinks containing caffeine should still be avoided by patients with pre-existing heart conditions as they can contain as much caffeine as six cups of coffee in a single drink.

More research is needed to prove a cause and effect relationship between caffeine and the protective effects on heart rhythm.

Patients should always consult a qualified medical professional for tailored advice to suit their personalised condition.

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