Palpitations & Arrhythmias

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

What works

There are many cross-overs in the understanding and approach to both palpitations and arrhythmias. In terms of an unpleasantly obvious sensation of the heart's beating (palpitations) or an unpleasantly obvious irregularity to the normal heart beat (arrhythmia) then these are both problems that I have personally worked with many times and have found that several key herbs along with a certain approach as described below has worked very well to help the majority of people.


Hawthorn is, without doubt, at the top of the list of things to help people with chronic palpitations or arrhythmias. This is because it has been long known and is now a scientifically verified fact that Hawthorn strengthens the heart muscle and improves blood flow through the heart.

Hawthorn is called the 'friend to the heart'. I could not imagine working with any kind of heart problem without it and, so long as it is taken patiently and consistently, I have found it to be exceptionally helpful to a great many people, including those who suffer from palpitations or arrhythmias. You can read a lot more about Hawthorn here

Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)



Whilst Hawthorn is the great tonic for the heart it is also undeniably a slow acting remedy so if we need to find a way to provide some fast relief when the palpitations or arrhythmia are causing an acute disturbance then the best medicine I know of to help with this is a potent herb with the evocative name of Motherwort.

Motherwort's Latin name Leonurus cardiaca gives an obvious clue as to how revered this herb has been since ancient times for heart problems. Motherwort is especially good for 'functional' heart disturbances such as occurs with arrhythmias and palpitations and you can quickly get results with it so long as you learn how to use it correctly. For most people what that means is taking small but frequent doses until they feel enough of an obvious calming and settling action on the agitated heart.

The use of Motherwort is written up in much more detail here, including its practical use, though again I urge you to find a herbalist to help you in person if that is at all possible.

Leonurus cardiaca (Motherwort)



Cayenne is the third herb that I have also seen help a great deal with functional heart disturbances such as with arrhythmias and palpitations. Cayenne is powerful stuff, and not for everyone, but I have had some particularly good results with it for some really bad and long-standing problems of this nature.

In old-school herbal medicine we call Cayenne a 'pure stimulant'. Pure meaning that its action is direct, immediate and unfiltered.

The only way to know for sure whether Cayenne can really help is by taking a 'try and see' approach so if this is something you do want to try then you have to be crystal clear on the vital matter of the dose. As is so often the case in medicine, the dose either makes the poison or the cure! I cannot advise you on a product without seeing you in person but as a general guide for the Cayenne capsules that we use in our clinic I usually start a person on 2 or 3 capsules a day and then advise them to see how their body feels with it and to be prepared to add a capsule every couple of days to see if they get an improved effect or whether their body tells them it has had enough. The maximum dose I get to is 4 capsules twice a day.

The gradual build-up of the dose is both to check for tolerance and also to see at what level it starts to work. If you are taking too much you then you will get some excess feelings of 'heat' in your body. This may be a literal feeling of being too hot or it may feel like a kind of agitation, like you are being too stimulated. If this happens it does not necessarily mean it is the wrong herb for you, just that you are having a bit too much of it. Go back to a smaller dose and continue to observe to see if it is actually helping the palpitations or arrhythmias. Don't throw it away if you get one bad episode mind you. You have to give it some time to make a difference so gauge it by how much better you are in a week, not a day!

In terms of feeling it working, in this case we are looking to see an obvious and sustained tonic action on the heart. A person who has experienced palpitations or arrhythmia over a long time frame is unlikely to be in doubt when the Cayenne is actually working. You will feel your heart beating with more balance and regularity. This will not necessarily happen overnight but the longer you use the Cayenne at a dose that you can feel it making a difference then the better it will work.

When you get to the level that you can feel working then don't try to speed the process up by taking more as you may find it actually works less well! I understand that this will seem counter-intuitive but this is the nature of herbal medicine. The right dose is not the biggest one; it is the one that works. As soon as you can feel it having a positive effect then stay at that dose.

Some people find that as they go along they need less of the Cayenne to get the same effect on their heart. Again this is back to the 'purity' of Cayenne's stimulation. Another stimulant (such as Coffee) would need more to get the same result -- Cayenne tends to go the other way. If this is the right herb for you then you should certainly learn about it in a lot more detail by reading here.

Capsicum minimum (Cayenne)


Nutritional Medicine

In terms of my own practice I will often treat with herbs alone but for some people this is an area where some extra nutritional medicines can also be of aid. There is good evidence to show that omega-3 fish oils help to stabilise heart rhythm and likewise there are some well researched studies to show that adding magnesium as a supplement can reduce arrhythmias and palpitations for some.

If I see signs of deficiency for good oils in the body (dry skin, flaky nails, sticky blood) I will probably recommend anywhere from 3 to 6 grams a day of a good omega-3 supplement (you can tell if it is any good by piercing a capsule and smelling the contents -- i.e. follow your nose and ask yourself if you would eat it if it was a fish!). Likewise if someone is prone to muscle cramps, twitches or tics then I might use a dose of Magnesium that gives at least 200 mg of elemental magnesium per day. Omega 3, rather like Hawthorn, probably has to be taken on faith for at least a few weeks to feel if it is making a real difference; magnesium will either obviously help or not within a week of using it.


Mind/body medicine

Unless a person has experienced real arrhythmias or palpitations for themselves it may be impossible for them to grasp just how great their potential is to disturb. It is a simple fact of biology that any 'felt' disruption to the regular rhythmical beating of the heart causes a ‘hard-wired’ alarm reaction to the brain.

This is survival biology, It doesn't matter how cool, calm and collected you are in your general life, If you get enough arrhythmias or palpitations in your chest then you will get alarm bells going off and feelings of anxiety as a result. This is because a part of your brain that is beyond your conscious control is telling you that your very life could be in danger!

As you have probably already found for yourself, the feelings of anxiety created by either arrhythmias or palpitations in turn themselves increase the intensity of the problem, and it all quickly becomes a vicious cycle...

The great majority of both arrhythmias and palpitations are 'functional', which means that no physical organic heart disease is involved. However try telling your brain that nothing is really wrong when you are getting bad symptoms! This is a non-'serious' problem that causes serious amounts of suffering and anxiety.

If you get bad arrhythmia or palpitations then, even without meeting you, I would say to start by letting Nature take the first step with the herbs above and then to practice relaxation for the second step.

I truly don't think it matters whether the arrhythmia or palpitations caused the tension or if the tension caused the arrhythmia or palpitations. The only thing I can say for sure is that once you put a judge and jury out on yourself then you will come back in the wrong, no matter what you do! Holistic medicine divests itself of the need to separate the mind from the body and we tend to get outstanding results with people as a consequence -- i.e. always treat both.

Do let Nature take the first step though, regardless, and once the medicine is in the picture and you can feel how help is at hand, then take the challenge to learn how to relax.

Telling someone to relax is rather simple to say but the reality is that, at least for most people, patterns of stress have been long-developed and well dug in and learning how to relax takes some deep attention!

I don't think that there is any one answer to how to relax or how to be less stressed but I have had such a lot of good results in these areas that I certainly feel I can share what I see working the best.

First of all you have to understand that trying to relax just makes you tenser, just like trying to fall asleep stops you falling asleep! You have to let Nature help you rather than starting by trying to help yourself. There are many great herbs to help relaxation and I cover them in more detail in this article on anxiety here, though as mentioned already, if you have bad arrhythmias or palpitations right now then I am recommending you begin with Motherwort because it is so relaxing to the heart muscle in particular.

Letting Nature take the first step takes some real thought (and humility!) to grasp but once understood the way becomes much clearer, and easier.

Secondly, physically do something that you already know relaxes you. This could be anything, so long as you know it works (everyone knows something that works). Common examples include reading a book, taking a bath, talking stuff out with a friend, going for a walk, watching the world go by.

Stressed people do not relax. They are stressed and so they look for a way to work out their stress by doing something non-relaxing! You have to put the horse in front of this cart for this problem to go forwards. If you are too tense then don't wait until you feel better before you start doing things that relax you because that 'tomorrow' will likely never come!

Thirdly, once those first two steps are in place, then maybe, and only if it suits you, practice some kind of relaxation exercise that fits your nature. Here I am talking about the breathing, meditation, prayer type things that don't involve you doing anything but, once you have a regular practice of them in your life, tend to have quite profound and even transformative effects on a person's health and well-being. If you would like a hand with this then I have some exercises that you can listen to or download in this section of the website here.

I have worked with a great many people with bad arrhythmias and palpitations over the years. Especially after the terrible Christchurch earthquakes it seemed for the first couple of years that every second person who saw me had something going wrong with their hearts; countless thousands of aftershocks will do that to you! For what it's worth, and I think it's worth a lot, I found that so long as people followed the simple steps as outlined above, they all got a lot better...


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as what might potentially help you with palpitations or arrhythmias. As it happens the majority of the patients I have personally worked with who have either palpitations or arrhythmias have been Bears but in any case there is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd