Theobromine, Theophylline and Caffeine are three of the main chemicals that can cause or aggravate an existing heart arrhythmia also known as atrial fibrillation. My husband has had what is known as a “nuisance” heart arrhythmia for decades. There were times when his heart would beat irregularly, feeling as if it skips a beat and then beats faster in order to catch-up again. After seeing a cardiologist and being tested, he was told it was nothing but a “nuisance” and did not constitute anything further in the way of medical treatment.
Years later, while working on the dock for a trucking company, he experienced a severe episode of heart palpitations and was transported by ambulance to the hospital. In the emergency room, he was found to be in ventricular tachycardia briefly, which can be life-threatening. Since that time, he has had no further episodes of tachycardia but the irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) has continued to be a nuisance.
Now, at the age of 63 and recently retired, he has begun to experience repeat bouts of heart arrhythmia which results in his feeling weak, exhausted and generally unable to function. After seeing his Cardiologist a few times and enduring a number of tests, no cause was found for the problem. However, on the most recent visit to his Cardiologist, the topic of drinking tea in place of coffee came up in conversation. The doctor told us that my husband should not drink coffee or soft drinks containing caffeine, which we understood. What we did not know was that he should not drink tea either and not so much because of caffeine but because those tea leaves contain a chemical known as theophylline, which stimulates the heart muscle.
Theophylline is a drug made from tea leaves and used to treat asthma, emphysema and other respiratory problems.
A recent research study conducted by a group of cardiologists found that even therapeutic levels of Theophylline can cause serious heart problems. Theophylline acts on the heart muscle, and, according to this recent study, theophylline can cause tachycardia, serious arrhythmias and even sudden cardiac death.
My husband has been a big tea drinker most of his life but within the last year or so, we changed from black tea to green tea, thinking it was a “healthier” tea for him to drink. He even drank hot green tea for breakfast in place of coffee, thinking he was doing the right thing for his heart. Not so, says the Cardiologist. Theophylline is found in both black and green tea because it is a chemical produced within the tea leaves.
The doctor also stated that my husband should avoid anything containing caffeine, theophylline or theobromine.
Theobromine is found in chocolate and produces about the same effects on the heart as either caffeine or theophylline. According to Wikipedia, theobromine is “a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant, found in chocolate, as well as in a number of chocolate-free foods made from theobromine sources including the leaves of the tea plant, the kola or cola nut, and acai berries.”
We immediately removed tea and chocolate from my husband’s diet, as well as caffeine-containing coffee and he has already experienced a better heart rate and rhythm. We are hoping for a return to that “nuisance” level of arrhythmia or maybe even no arrhythmia. At any rate, we wanted to share this information with others who may be heading down this same pathway. It isn’t all about the caffeine, which is found in soft drinks, coffee, chocolate and tea, but it is also about other chemicals that are found in these products.
If you or someone you know suffers from any form of heart problem, please see your doctor and be sure to ask about the effects of theophylline and theobromine on your heart.