Close up of two hands grabbing a chest on a black background, useful to represent a heart attack or any sentimental concept

Cortisol and Arrythmia

Ever felt like your heart was skipping a beat?  A lot of us have from time to time.  Interestingly enough, arrhythmias can result from a rapid heart rate (tachyarrhythmias) or slowed heart rate (bradyarrhythmias).  Atrial fibrillation is another common term and is the most common type of arrythmia and means “irregular heartbeat”.

So is a heart palpitation, or arrythmia, a big deal? It is definitely something that you don’t want to play around with as it can be a sign of serious conditions such as heart disease, thyroid problems, anemia and changes in the heart muscle itself.  Better safe than sorry when it comes to the organ that is supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain, don’t you think?  Plus, arrythmias are associated with long term health issues such as stroke and mortality, i.e. death. [1]

This is an involved subject, but below I list 14 Research-Backed  Causes of Arrhythmia, some of which are quite common and yet not that well-known:

CAUTION:  If you have a arrhythmia, always discuss any changes with your physician first.

1.  Minoxidil (Rogaine).  Minoxidil, the common hair loss formulation for men, has a fairly common side effect of arrthymia and can actually change the heart.  See my link on Hair Loss for details.

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2.  Caffeine.  Heart palpitations can occur in people sensitive to caffeine.  If you’re one of them, I would still recommend decaf green tea because of the many health benefits.

3.  Nicotine and Alcohol.  Both of these are risk factors for arrhythmias.

4.  Excitotoxins and Free Glutamine.  A couple of studies out there have linked glutamate with arrhythias and it is widely reported around the web as well, especially in guys using commercial wheys. [11] And it makes sense, because they overheat standard wheys which frees up a lot of the glutamate in the whey, turning it into “MSG” effectively. Look at what these authors wrote:

“Central sympathetic stimulation was achieved by intracerebroventricular injection of the excitatory amino acid L-glutamate (10 µmol), associated with inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis with L-NAME (40 mg/kg, iv). Glutamate triggered ventricular arrhythmia and persistent ST-segment shifts in the ECG, indicating myocardial ischemia.” [12]

 Remember that free glutamine (in commercial wheys, autolyzed yeast extract, etc.) has trouble crossing the blood brain barrier, but it is a neurotransmitter and can apparently impact the ventricular nodes of the heart and lead to arrhythmias if levels get high enough.  You can probably avoid issues by simply using CFM wheys.  Read my links on Whey and Excitotoxins and Undenatured (CFM) Wheys – A Better Choice.

5. Low Carb Diets.  Some men get heart palpitations while on a low carb diet.  Researchers have found that the high ketone levels – a low carb diet is sometimes called The Ketogenic Diet – can cause the nodes in the heart to struggle, something I cover in my page on  Low Carb Diets and Arrhythmias.

6. DHEA.  Ray Sahelian has reported that medium and higher dosages of this supplement can lead to dangerous heart murmurs.

7. Hypoglycemia.  One of our the members on the Peak Testosterone Forum told the story as to how he had some starch and triggered some arrhythmia. Of course, the healthiest and longest lived cultures on planet earth eat starch, so this did not make sense to me. It turns out there was more to the story: he was consuming a lot of maltodextrin:

“But recently (2 months ago) I have been having very strange “heartbeats”,exaclty the same as many years ago when I was having maltodextrin that was included in a protein shake I used to drink. I called a cardiologist and when I explained him my sympthoms, he told me that I must be eating something that was causing that,that it was not a problem of my heart. Anyway,he asked me about if I was abusing on any starch and when I told him about maltodextrin, he told me that that was the problem. I quit on that and bingo! the problem dissapeared imediately. Now, when I started having the problem again,I checked the ingredients on my actual protein shakes and also I went to forums and a lot o people blame certain whey proteins. I’m testing on switching to Casein and another brand of whey and I think I’m doing better.” [13]

Why was maltodextrin likely the problem?  The reasons is that it has an extremely high glycemic index – well over 100!  In other words, it really spikes blood sugar and insulin if you take a lot of it and that was what the poster was doing.  This very likely sent him into a hypoglycermic state which is linked with these sorts of issues.  And, in fact, some recent studies have found that this is the case with hypoglycemic states experienced by diabetics. [14]

8.  Drugs and Supplements.  You should be suspicious of almost all drugs and supplements.  Yes, even supplements can zap you, especially those with ephedrine. [2]

9. Noradrenaline and Viagra.  Anything that increases noradrenaline can increase the risk of an arrhythmia.  These include yohimbe, popular in many supplements, and Viagra. [3][8][9] In fairness, Viagra has sometimes shown positive changes in stroke and arrthymia paramters as well. (Discuss with your physician.)

10.  Stress, Sleep and Cortisol. Stress is a well-accepted arrhythmia-inducer. One study of women with breast cancer found that better sleep improved their cortisol response and, seemingly, reduced arrhythmias on average. [5]  Researcher in India found a direct correlation between stress hormone levels in the blood and severity of arrhythmia for example. [6]

11.  Electrolyes.  Imbalances in electrolytes, sodium and potassium, can lead to heart palpitations. [4] Of course, Peak Testosterone readers are probably eating either a Low Fat Diet or a Mediterranean Diet and, therefore, a balanced distribution of both. If all else fails, have a banana.

12.  Insulin and Hypoglycemia.  Hypolglycemia is common palpitation-inducer. This could be an issue for those dieting or struggling with pre-diabetes, diabetes and perhaps Metabolic Syndrome.

13. Creatine Supplementation.  This is probably the number one muscle supplement used by bodybuilders, weight lifters and other athletes around the globe.  What many do not realize is that creatine is foundational in heart contractions and creatine supplementation has well-known side effect of heart murmurs and palpitations. [7]

14. Subclinical Hyperthyroidism.  Many people have subclinical hyperthyroidism – around 1-2% of the population – where their TSH is ver low (< 0.1) and yet they are not treated because their T3 and T4 are n range.  It turns out that such people are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. [10]

15. Cardiorespiratory Fitness.  At least in overweight patients with a-fib, those who had low fitness levels had almost five times the risk of a-fib when compared with those of high fitness:

“After four years of follow up, 17 percent of patients in the low cardiorespiratory fitness group were free from arrhythmia, compared to 76 percent in the adequate group and 84 percent in the high group.” [15]

 Of course, talk to your doctor first and ask him/her to design a program for you.



2) J Am Coll Cardiol, 2004; 44:1675-1678, “Ephedrine increases ventricular arrhythmias in conscious dogs after myocardial infarction”;  Wien Klin Wochenschr, 2006 Sep, 118(17-18):558-61, “Ventricular tachycardia induced by abuse of ephedrine in a young healthy woman”


4) Natl Med J India, 1995 Jan-Feb, 8(1):13-4, “Correction of serum electrolyte imbalance prevents cardiac arrhythmia during amphotericin B administration”

5) J Clin Sleep Med, 2008 Oct 15, 4(5):441-9, “Vagal regulation, cortisol, and sleep disruption in women with metastatic breast cancer”

6) Stress and its management by yoga By K. N. Udupa, R. C. Prasad, p. 235.

7) Pharmacotherapy, 2005, 25(5):762-764, “Lone atrial fibrillation associated with creatine monohydrate supplementation”

8) Journal of Medical Case Reports, 2007, 1:65, “Ventricular tachycardia after administration of sildenafil citrate: a case report”

9) Neurology November 13, 2001, 57(9):1730-1731, “Transient ischemic attack and stroke associated with sildenafil (Viagra) use”

10) Postgrad Med J, 2004, 80:394-398, “Subclinical hyperthyroidism: to treat or not to treat?”

11) Pharmacology, 2014, 93:4-9, “Increasing Glutamate Promotes Ischemia-Reperfusion-Induced Ventricular Arrhythmias in Rats in vivo”

12) Braz J Med Biol Res, Jan 2003, 36(1):85-95, “Protective effects of centrally acting sympathomodulatory drugs on myocardial ischemia induced by sympathetic overactivity in rabbits”



14) Diabetes, 2014 May, 63(5):1738-47, “Risk of cardiac arrhythmias during hypoglycemia in patients with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk”

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