A cardiologist blamed the recent rise of heart arrhythmia in young adults on taking herbal supplements. California-based cardiologist Dr. Danielle Belardo said the increase in irregular heartbeat cases in her 20-something patients stems from them taking herbal supplements. The news media rapidly jumped on her claims and propagated them to the masses. Certain supplements, especially when taken improperly or when taken by people predisposed to or who are suffering from heart arrhythmia disorders, can cause or worsen heart arrhythmia. That being said, there is no sudden rise of heart arrhythmia cases in 20-something young adults because of the increased use of supplements that I can see being consistently reported or currently studied. However, there might be other reasons for the increase in heart arrhythmia cases.

Dr. Belardo first attempts to blame the rise of young adults developing heart arrhythmia because more people have started taking supplements since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. “In Southern California, Belardo says she often sees patients with heart problems who gravitate towards alternate therapies, herbals, and supplements.” The data shows Dr. Belardo is mistaken. The number of Americans using supplements since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased by a few percentage points over the past few years, not enough to be statistically different.1 2 3

Correlation is not always causation. Of course, Dr. Belardo would see patients suffering from heart arrhythmia issues; after all, she is a Cardiologist. Dr. Belardo mentions that some of the certain supplements her patients take that cause or worsen heart arrhythmia include ephedra and bitter orange, two supplements that are well known to worsen or cause heart arrhythmia. Ephedra contains the natural alkaloid ephedrine structurally similar to the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) and is a stimulant. Bitter orange contains the tyramine metabolites N-methyltyramine, octopamine, and synephrine, substances similar to epinephrine, which act as stimulants.4 5

Ephedra was banned for use in supplements within the United States in 2004 by the United States Food and Drug Administration. You can find a few ephedra-containing herbal supplements on Amazon, but they are sold as Brigham Tea; they are not easily labeled, accessible, or widespread and sold in Big Box stores or retail vitamin stores like the Vitamin Shoppe or GNC. Bitter orange supplements are easy to obtain on Amazon, but by review count and the amount of bitter orange supplements available, bitter orange is not popular.6

Dr. Belardo also blamed the herb ashwagandha for the increase in heart arrhythmia cases that she is seeing in young adult patients. “Belardo said, including one 2022 report that suggested the herb caused arrhythmias in a 73-year-old woman. The heart condition stopped when she no longer took ashwagandha.” Dr. Belardo blames ashwagandha, a popular herbal supplement used for centuries in India, for possibly contributing to the rise of heart arrhythmia cases in young adults because of one case report that involved a 73-year-old woman. Anything but the Covid vaccines, amirite? But seriously, any supplement or medication can rarely cause or worsen heart arrhythmia given to the wrong person at the wrong time. Numerous medications have likely caused more cases of heart arrhythmia than ashwagandha ever has.

Some supplements and medications are more likely to cause or worsen heart arrhythmia than others. However, Dr. Belardo is severely ignorant at best. She is likely, however, suffering from cognitive dissonance. If you start a new supplement or medication and develop heart arrhythmia or if you suffer from arrhythmia and it worsens, contact your healthcare professional immediately.

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