SYLVANIA, OHIO. At least two of our LAF surveys have found that a significant proportion of lone afibbers are sensitive to the food flavour enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate) and the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel). Now a researcher at the University of Toledo College of Medicine confirms this connection. Dr. Craig Burkhart describes the case of a 57-year-old physician (no underlying heart disease or hypertension) who was diagnosed with persistent atrial flutter, which was resolved in 2007 with a catheter ablation. However, over the next several months the patient developed paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. While awaiting a second ablation, he decided to eliminate MSG and aspartame from his diet and experienced an immediate elimination of his afib episodes. To test the validity of this finding, he challenged himself on three separate occasions with MSG (Chinese food and beef jerkies) and with aspartame in the form of a diet soft drink. All of these challenges resulted in afib episodes within a few hours.
Dr. Burkhart points out that the reaction to MSG and aspartame is likely caused by the release of their metabolites, glutamate and aspartate during digestion. Both of these chemicals are strong excitotoxins, which excite not only brain tissue, but also cardiac tissue. They have been associated with numerous symptoms including headaches, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, vertigo, and memory loss. He concludes that this case history adds further credence to the idea that eliminating MSG and aspartame from the diet may be beneficial for some patients with atrial fibrillation.
Burkhart, CG. 'Lone' atrial fibrillation precipitated by monosodium glutamate and aspartame. International Journal of Cardiology, February 9, 2009 [Epub ahead of print]
Editor's comment: Our first LAF survey (February 2001) found that 10% of respondents experienced afib episodes after ingestion of MSG, while 4% did so following ingestion of aspartame. A later, significantly larger survey (LAFS-14) found that 22% of afibbers who had eliminated MSG from their diet had observed a better than 50% reduction in their episode frequency. Similarly, 24% of afibbers who had eliminated aspartame had found this to be highly beneficial. It is interesting that this article in the International Journal of Cardiology makes mention of The AFIB Report in the following sentence:
"The AFIB Report found that 10% of patients with atrial fibrillation found MSG and 4% listed aspartame as triggers for their attacks."