low carb diet

Can a Low-Carb Diet Leading to a Heart Rhythm Disorder? Expert Advice

A new study presented at the American College of Cardiology has shown that low‐carbohydrate diets could be linked to increased risk of incident atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, regardless of the type of protein or fat used to replace the carbohydrate.

Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as an arrhythmia. In people with AFib, the heartbeat doesn’t have a regular pace (it is fast and irregular) and can result in reduced heart function. It affects about 6.1 million U.S. adults, but many don’t experience symptoms, and the condition goes undiagnosed.

Some of the common symptoms of the disorder are palpitation, dizziness, and tiredness. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than people without the condition. It can also lead to heart failure.

In the last few years, low-carb diets (diet that restricts carbohydrates) like keto diet, Atkins diet, low-carb Paleo diet, and low-carb Mediterranean diet have gained immense popularity due to the belief that they can cause weight loss and improve numerous health markers.

A healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet are known to reduce the risk for AFib and other heart problems; however, little is known about the long-term impact of low-carb diets (a popular weight loss strategy in recent years) on heart health.

The Study Shows

The study which analyzed the health records for nearly 14,000 people over more than two decades, was the first and largest to examine the relationship between carbohydrate intake and the risk of incident AFib. 

Researchers extracted data from Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC), a study overseen by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers analyzed data of nearly 14,000 participants who did not have AFib at the start of the study.

Study participants were asked to report their daily intake of food through a food frequency questionnaire. Researchers assessed each participant’s daily carbohydrate consumption and the proportion of daily calories that came from carbohydrates.

Researchers then divided participants into three groups – low-carb (less than 44.8% of daily calories), moderate carb (44.8-52.4% of daily calories), and high-carb diets (more than 52.4% of daily calories).

The results revealed that participants with low carbohydrate intake were 18% more likely to develop AFib than those with moderate carbohydrate intake and 16% more likely to develop AFib than those with a high-carb intake. Nearly 1,900 individuals were diagnosed with AFib during an average of 22 years of follow-up.

However, authors of the study mentioned that although the study shows an association, it does not prove that a low-carb diet directly increases risk for AFib.

According to them, a randomized controlled trial is the need of the hour to confirm the relationship between carbohydrate intake and AFib. But, one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Xiaodong Zhuang, offers a few explanations for the possible association.

Potential Mechanisms to Explain the Association Between Low Carb Diets and AFib

According to Dr. Xiaodong Zhuang, those following low-carb diets tend to consume fewer grains, fruits, and vegetables which are known to reduce inflammation.

The absence of these foods may stimulate inflammatory pathways, one of the critical mechanisms for the risk of incident AF.

Moreover, a low‐carb diet with increased protein and fat consumption may stimulate oxidative stress, which has also been shown to be associated with incident AF. Finally, the effect could result from the increased risk of other cardiovascular disease, a known risk factor for AF.

However, Dr. Zhuang said that the long-term relationship between carb intake and cardiovascular health remains controversial and suggested that such diets should be recommended with caution, based on the study results.

Are the Results Really Correct?

Some health experts are not convinced with the result of this study. The Diet Doctor’s Dr. Bret Scher expressed his reservations about the study’s findings.

Dr. Scher was not happy with the study’s definition of low-carb (less than 40% of calories from carbohydrates).

He says that the less than 40% carb limit used by the study is very different from the less than 50 or even 20 grams of carbs which most low-carb eaters follow.

Dr. Scher also questioned the accuracy of the food frequency questionnaires that were used to record participants’ diets. According to him, these questionnaires are erroneous and fail to capture what people really eat.

He also pointed out that the study did not account for any changes in diet that participants may have had after completing the questionnaire.

Dr. Scher also asked, “Did people decrease their carb intake from very high to slightly high (from more than 60% to less than 40%) because they were obese and wanted to lose weight? Did they have diabetes or hypertension and wanted to improve them?”

According to Dr. Scher, a good low-carb diet improves conditions like obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension, and diabetes, the risk factors associated with AFib.

Mediterranean Diet - Healthier and Sustainable

According to health experts, a low-carb diet is a powerful tool to improve health when followed correctly. When it comes to heart health, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet are two of the most important things.

One way to do that is to follow a low-carb diet. Several studies have shown that low-carb diets promote healthy weight loss, which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

Out of all the diets out there, the Mediterranean Diet is considered healthier and more sustainable. Several studies have shown that a low-carb Mediterranean diet is a healthier alternative to low-carb, high-saturated fat diets.

Recently the Mediterranean Diet was named as the best diet for overall health. The Mediterranean diet was also ranked number one for the easiest diet to follow, the best diet for diabetes, the best heart-healthy diet and the best plant-based diet.

What is A Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet, associated with people living in Italy, Greece, and Spain—is thought to be so healthy that it is often considered the gold standard for healthy eating.

It is the traditional eating pattern of people living in these countries and has an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and healthy fats. Use of olive oil is encouraged and nuts are part of everyday meal.

The diet also includes modest amounts of red and processed meat, cheese, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy.

Having meals in the company of your family and friends, having an occasional glass of red wine, and being physically active are also essential components of the Mediterranean diet.

The foods that constitute a Mediterranean diet help lower cholesterol and keep blood pressure in check. There are no restrictions and no counting of calories in this diet.

It simply encourages eating more of some foods and less of others. That often makes it much easier for people to stick to it than an enormously restrictive diet that may be hard to adhere to in the long term.

Studies show that those who follow the traditional Mediterranean diet are likely to live longer, healthier lives.

There is growing evidence that the diet provides a host of health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and the development of diabetes, promoting weight loss, and improving brain health.

Studies that Show the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

  • A 2016 study showed that a Mediterranean diet with either olive oil or nuts may reduce the combined risk of stroke, heart attack, and death from heart disease.

  • A 2018 study found that, in general, the Mediterranean diet can reduce blood pressure in both people with and without hypertension.

  • A 2014 study demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet improved cholesterol levels.

  • A cohort study published in September 2018 in the journal Stroke revealed that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce stroke risk in women.

  • A July 2016 review published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition showed that the Mediterranean diet may prevent cognitive decline.

  • A study published in May 2018 in the journal Neurology revealed that the Mediterranean diet may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.

  • Evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet can help people lose weight. A in 2018 also found that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk for obesity.

  • A study published in Diabetes Care showed that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 52 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes.

  • A meta-analysis of 20 randomized clinical trials published in January 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that the Mediterranean diet may help in avoiding type 2 diabetes–related health complications.


A study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session revealed an association between low-carb diets and the risk of incident atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common arrhythmia.

The study showed that low-carb diets were associated with a higher risk of AFib. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than people without the condition.

The researchers attributed the increased risk of AFib to several factors that make up a low-carb diet.

However, researchers also said that while the research shows an association, it cannot prove cause and effect. The study’s lead author said that “the long-term effect of carbohydrate restriction is still controversial, especially concerning its influence on cardiovascular disease”. Based on the study’s results, he also cautioned against rampantly recommending low-carb diets.

However, in recent years more and more people have opted for one or the other low-carb diet. Evidence is increasing of the numerous health benefits offered by low-carb diets.

Health experts are increasingly recommending the Mediterranean diet to boost overall health. Scientific evidence also supports the benefits associated with this diet.

The Mediterranean diet shows numerous health benefits, from heart health to cancer prevention to diabetes prevention and management.

The Mediterranean diet offers an excellent way to live a long and disease-free life.

Scroll to Top