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For Years, I Had Heart Palpitations. This Diet Change Got Them Under Control.

By Ashley Zlatopolsky
August 3, 2023

For years, my heart felt like it was literally pounding out of my chest. This happened every single day, and I don’t mean after a run or a big weightlifting session at the gym — I mean all the time, for no discernible reason at all. Watching a movie, cooking dinner, reading a book, filing my nails… it was normal for me to have a resting heart rate of 100 beats per minute or more doing any of these activities. To put that number in perspective, athletes might have a resting heart rate of around 40 beats per minute. Years went by, and I could never understand why my heart rate was so high; I just lived with the constant sensation of pounding in my chest. Doctors didn’t have an answer, either, despite putting me through tests that included echocardiograms and wearing a heart monitor.

Finally, in my late 20s, I’d had enough. I decided to take matters into my own hands and investigate whether something I wasn’t aware of was triggering my pounding heart, also known as heart palpitations. While a heart rate of up to 100 is still considered normal, I wanted to bring down my beats per minute to a healthier, more comfortable range of 60 to 70.

I considered my lifestyle. I had average stress levels and exercised regularly, and I didn’t consume more than one cup of coffee per day. So it seemed logical for me to address my diet and see if I could discover some issues there. I followed an elimination diet and kept a food diary to see if I could identify whether something I was eating or drinking was making my heart race.

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What I discovered during an elimination diet

I started my elimination diet and began by cutting out certain fruits. When none of them appeared to make a difference, I turned to gluten. I created an experiment with my diet and switched regular bread to gluten-free bread, and cut out any snacks made with gluten, like pretzels.

After about three weeks of eating a strictly gluten-free diet, I couldn’t believe the change that I was experiencing in both my physical and mental health. Not only did I have more energy, but my thinking was sharper, and my heart palpitations had nearly stopped. Instead of hovering in the 90s (or higher), my resting heart rate was now in the 70s.

For the first time in years, I didn’t feel a constant sensation of pounding in my chest. Plus, my blood pressure went down, dropping from 130/90 to 120/80. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, I found that I was sleeping better and had reduced anxiety (likely also due to not worrying about a fast-beating heart). I was certain I had finally found the culprit: gluten.

While I’ve never tested for celiac disease, the benefits I experienced eating gluten-free were enough to encourage me to stick to the diet. I can’t be certain that gluten was the cause of my high heart rate, but after eating gluten-free for the past three years, my resting heart rate generally hovers around a healthy 60 to 70 beats per minute.

How a gluten sensitivity could have been my issue

And in the few times I did sneak gluten into my diet, I noticed that my heart rate would immediately soar. I’d heard that people with gluten sensitivities typically have plenty of gut health issues, but I’d never heard of them having an irregular or fast heartbeat before. However, it’s definitely a thing — and that’s according to the professionals, not just my experience. According to Laura Purdy, MD, sensitivity to gluten results in an inflammatory process that can potentially cause a fast-beating heart.

“People who have higher levels of inflammation may experience symptoms such as racing heart palpitations,” Purdy says. “I have had so many patients through the years that have varying severities of gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Some people say that they can tell when they have eaten gluten because their entire body feels like it’s off.”

Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT, explains that non-celiac gluten sensitivities differ from non-celiac gluten intolerances due to their symptomatology. Intolerances, she says, are limited to the digestive tract and can cause symptoms like bloating and cramping. Sensitivities, on the other hand, don’t manifest exclusively as digestive issues. In fact, they can cause anything from brain fog to chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, or headaches and skin breakouts.

Not all people with gluten or other food sensitivities have extreme forms, Purdy explains, so people with milder cases may be able to tolerate a small amount of gluten without experiencing side effects. For some, that’s a great choice, while others choose to give up gluten altogether to improve their symptoms.

Related: Follow a Heart Healthy Diet With This 7-Day Meal Plan

Why a food diary could be the key to getting answers

Volpe and Purdy agree that keeping a food diary is one of the best ways to identify potential food sensitivities. “It’s common for people with one sensitivity to discover that they have other sensitivities as well,” Purdy says of tracking food intake. “Taking the time to write down what you feel and when can be helpful in identifying food triggers.”

Going gluten-free worked for me, but it’s important to test for celiac disease if you’re experiencing more severe symptoms, Volpe says — especially in your gut. “If someone does have celiac disease but they are only partially gluten-free, they are causing cellular damage to their intestines without realizing it. This is why it’s important to work with a doctor and dietitian who specialize in digestive health before trying out different diets.”

Read next: We Tried It: The Absolute Best Alternatives to Wheat Pasta in Every Category

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