My husband, Richard, has just been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which seems to come and go. He turned 54 last month. He eats healthily, has a good appetite and drinks very little alcohol, but he smokes about 20 cigarettes a day. By way of explanation, he was told that his heart undergoes stages of quivering, sort of . . . or that's how he understood it. How dangerous is his condition? Can you please give us a fuller explanation of what this really is and tell us whether there is a natural cure for it?
Vera T., Plymouth, Devon
Cardiac arrhythmia refers to a problem of heart rate or rhythm-often with a heartbeat that is either too fast or irregular, although it can also be too slow. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of heart arrhythmia that happens when the two upper chambers of the heart-the atria-pump blood too quickly and so get out of synch with the two lower pumping chambers of the heart-the ventricles. This can result in an incomplete pumping of blood to the ventricles, causing blood to pool in the atria.
These chaotic events are caused by disorganized electrical signals coming from parts in or near the heart that overwhelm a cluster of specialized cells called the 'sinus node', or 'sinoatrial node', as it's located in the right atrium; this means the node can no longer set the correct heart rhythm, rather like the conductor of an orchestra does. These heart irregularities are frequently accompanied by shortness of breath and physical weakness. And instead of being only episodic, the abnormal heartbeats may become chronic and persistent.
Although AF in itself isn't generally life-threatening, it's a serious medical condition sometimes requiring emergency treatment (such as with a defibrillator), and it can lead to complications. There is an increased risk of stroke or heart failure, for instance.
Orthodox medical treatments for AF include medications and other interventions that attempt to correct the disordered electrical signals emanating from the sinus node. But it may surprise you to know that homeopathy can do both the things that conventional treatments try to do, but simultaneously. Some explanation of how homeopathy medicines work, though, may help to clarify the treatment.
You may be aware that homeopathic medicine follows the principle of 'like cures like'-in other words, a substance that in substantial doses induces symptoms will cure a similar complaint through doses of lower concentrations . To establish which substance induces which symptoms, homeopathy conducts placebo-controlled pathogenetic trials-called 'provings'-on healthy individuals, who are called 'provers'.
German homeopath Julius Mezger (1891-1976) published a two-year trial involving 27 healthy provers and conducted under controlled conditions at the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart testing the remedy Sarothamnus scoparius (also known as Cytisus scoparius and colloquially as Scotch broom).1 The online Homeopathic Materia Medica website of professor of homeopathic medicine George Vithoulkas says that Spartium Scoparium (Cytisus scoparius) "increases the strength of the heart, slows it and reduces blood pressure".2
In his book, Dr Othon Andr'e Julian (1910-1984) quotes some of the symptoms listed in the records of Mezger's provers: "Palpitations. Pulse accelerated. Violent cardiac pulsations. Constriction in the precordial region [the area over the heart or stomach]. Extrasystoles [abnormal heartbeats].
Irregularity of the contractions. Changes on the ECG (electrocardiography)."3 For patients with heart problems like AF, Julian recommends a low homeopathic potency of 2DH. This is a deconcentration or dilution of one part of homeopathic potency to 99 parts of alcohol, which is then succussed (vigorously shaken) to achieve a dilution rate of 1/100.
The phytochemical constituents of Sarothamnus scoparius are biogenic amines, organic compounds formed from naturally occurring amino acids in living cells. The plant also contains flavonoids as well as isoflavones and their glycosides, such as genistin, which is also found in plants like soy and kudzu.
In addition, the plant is known to contain quinolizidine alkaloids (such as sparteine, lupanine, scoparin and some hydroxy derivatives), which defend the plant against insect infestations and from being eaten.
In the textbook Weiss's Herbal Medicine, the authors write: "It [Sarothamnus scoparius] works on the conductive mechanism of the heart . . . atrial and ventricular fibrillation disappear. Extrasystoles also respond to long-term treatment."4 In fact, the herb's medicinal effectiveness as a cardiac and circulatory therapy was solidly established at least half a century ago and perhaps even earlier.5 The plant and flowers of Scotch broom are used to make the homeopathic mother tincture.
When used as a herbal remedy, a weak infusion is made of the herb, and 10 mL (or around one dessertspoonful) of this should be consumed two times a day as a cardioactive diuretic.6 Incidentally, it should be borne in mind that, in the US, the botanical medicine 'broom' refers to a completely different herbal remedy-namely, Ruscus aculeatus, or butcher's broom. I mention this to avoid any multinational confusion.
A licensed medicinal version of Scotch broom is available as a standardized hydroethanolic (water and alcohol) extract and sold under the trade name Spartiol(R) Cardiohom. It is made by Dr. Gustav Klein GmbH & Co. KG, a company based in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, that makes homeopathic and plant-based pharmaceuticals. The product has been approved by Germany's Commission E, which monitors medicinal homeopathic, anthroposophical and herbal preparations under the auspices of the German Medicinal Registration Authority.7 The suggested dosage for Spartiol Cardiohom-which is not to be exceeded-is seven drops in half a glass of water three times a day. It can be taken over the long term, but its use must then be monitored by the prescriber. Self-prescribing is definitely contraindicated, as there are a number of specific circumstances where the herbal may be inappropriate.8
Acupuncture can also work wonders for heart-rhythm problems. I have often found that cessation of AF can be brought about immediately on the spot just by needling three acupoints: H5, or Tong Li; H7, or Shen Men; and H8, or Shao Fu.9 These points are all located along the Heart Meridian (hence the H). H5 is located just slightly more than an inch up the forearm from the crease of the wrist, on the radial side of the arm (away from the thumb); H7 lies on the crease of the wrist along the same radial line as H5; and H8 is in the palm of the hand along the main crease, between the metacarpal bones of the ring and little fingers.
Spartiol Cardiohomcan be taken by your husband under professional guidance, and may be used together with acupuncture. This treatment may well control his AF episodes, but he will definitely also have to give up smoking altogether.
Another supplement that can help AF is magnesium (used in dosages ranging from 1.2 to 10 g/day).10
Allg Hom"oopath Ztg, 1960; 205: 311-8, 337-58
Julian OA (Munday V, translator). Materia Medica of New Homoeopathic Remedies. Beaconsfield, Bucks, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers, 1979: 465 (ISBN 0906584116)
Weiss RF et al. Weiss's Herbal Medicine (translated from Lehrbuch der Phytotherapie, 6th edn). Ab Arcanum: Gothenburg, Sweden, 1988: 149-151 (ISBN 0906584191)
Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. The British Pharmaceutical Codex. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1923: 990; General Council of Medical Education and Registration of the United Kingdom. The British Pharmacopoeia 1914. London, UK: Constable & Co., 1923: 337
British Herbal Medicine Association. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, vol I. Cowling, West Yorkshire, UK: Keighley, 1980: 179
Schilcher H et al. Leitfaden Phytotherapie (Phytotherapy Guide), 4th edn. Munich: Urban & Fischer Verlag/Elsevier GmbH, 2010
Brinker F. Herbal Contraindications and Drug Interactions: Plus Herbal Adjuncts with Medicines, 4th edn. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 2010
O'Connor J, Bensky D (translators). Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine: Acupuncture-A Comprehensive Text. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 1981: 252-4 (ISBN 0939616009)
Am J Cardiol, 2007; 99: 1726-32
Harald Gaier, one of the UK's leading experts on alternative medicine and a registered naturopath, osteopath, acupuncturist, homeopath and herbalist, practises at The Allergy and Nutrition Clinic, 22 Harley Street, London. Visit his website at www.drgaier.com.
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