Dr. John Day
Dr. Day is a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm abnormalities at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Does Atrial Fibrillation Have to Get Worse with Age?
AFib is a heart condition that, for many people, is little more than another inevitable consequence of aging, many doctors still tell their patients that there is nothing they could have done about it—and that there’s not much they can do now but make it “less bad.” They prescribe some drugs, or order up a procedure, and that is that. While AFib may be a warning sign that you are aging too fast, does atrial fibrillation have to get worse with age? And, is it possible to reverse aging to stop AFib?
Mary’s Experience with AFib
Mary had been a picture of health for most of her life. She had followed a mostly plant-based diet free of fried, processed, and fast foods. She didn’t eat sugar. She’d never been overweight. She did aerobics every day at the gym and attended a yoga class three times a week. She practiced deep-breathing exercises whenever stress levels were getting too high. She slept well at night. She even volunteered as a crosswalk guard at the elementary school across the street from her house.
And since no one in her family had ever been diagnosed with AFib, she was more than a little irritated when her doctor told her she had that arrhythmia. But here’s the thing: Mary was 94 years old. And the truth is that even if your genes are perfect and you do just about everything right, you can still get AFib as a result of age. Because just as your skin will wrinkle over the years, the simple act of living life will put some wear and tear on your heart cells over time.
But there’s a big difference between being 94 and 54—between AFib that results from natural aging and AFib that comes about due to premature aging. Most of the AFib cases we see are due to the latter kind of aging. And while there is nothing we can do to stop how many candles are on our birthday cakes—that’s chronological age—there is plenty we can do to slow the process of biological aging.
Stop Age Related Fibrosis of Your Heart
Fibrosis is a fancy term for scar tissue, which is made up of dead heart cells. If there is no fibrosis in your atria then a premature atrial contraction (PAC) spark from the pulmonary veins probably won’t trigger an AFib episode.
However, the more fibrosis you develop, the more likely it is that one randomly occurring premature beat from the pulmonary veins, or elsewhere in the atria, is all that is needed for a full-blown AFib attack, and a resulting visit to the emergency room. That’s why, if your goal is to stop AFib from getting worse, you absolutely have to stop the ongoing process of age related scarring or fibrosis. And if your goal is to make things better, you have to stop age related fibrosis of your heart.
What causes heart scarring (fibrosis)?
Before you can fight fibrosis, though, you’ve got to understand what it is. Fibrosis occurs naturally with aging—particularly after the age of 60. But natural scarring usually isn’t enough to sustain an AFib episode from a pulmonary vein- initiated premature contraction.
Excessive fibrosis, on the other hand, may disrupt how normal heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, look and move, just like how the kind of scarring we’re most familiar with—called dermal fibrosis—can make our scarred skin look and move differently than the rest of our skin. When we remember that every part of our heart is in constant movement, and all of those parts have been designed to work in harmony with the others, it becomes clear how this can become problematic.
Imagine, for instance, what would happen if you were to replace a valve in your home plumbing with one that was ever-so-slightly different in shape, or which moved a little differently than the valve that came before. Everything downstream of that valve would be impacted, right? The same thing is happening in the hearts of people with atrial fibrillation when cardiomyocytes are transformed from their ever-supple natural state to the tough and inflexible nature of scar tissue. Because in heart tissue, fibrosis causes another problem; it changes the ways in which electrical impulses move through our hearts.
Is AFib caused by premature aging?
The risk of AFib increases with age or premature aging, as we showed in our telomere study of AFib patients from my former hospital. But there’s an important difference between age and aging; the first term can be marked in months and years while the second term can only be seen in our biology. And, in fact, you may be wearing down everything, right down to your chromosomes. For example, our study of more than 3,500 patients demonstrated that people with atrial fibrillation tend to have shorter telomeres—the deterioration-protective caps at the ends of each chromosome—which is a sign of premature aging. So, if you have been diagnosed with AFib, it’s not just your heart that is at risk; your whole body may be aging faster.
6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Reverse Aging
As the work from my former hospital clearly showed that aging and premature aging may be a significant cause of AFib, can this aging process be stopped? While we’ll never be able to completely stop the aging process, we can slow aging to a crawl so that the AFib can be stopped. Below are the 6 best scientifically proven ways to “reverse” aging (click on each to see the study).
Did you like the photo attached to this article? I took this picture on a recent run with my teenage daughter. It was taken with an iPhone using the night photo feature on a full moon as we were running on a ski trail in Park City, Utah. You can see the lights of Park City below.
If you are looking for drug-free options to treat atrial fibrillation and would like to be treated in our AFib Clinic, please give my team a call at 801-266-3418 for an in-person consultation (sorry–telemedicine visits outside of Utah are not possible).
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.