The Correlation Between Heart Rate Variability and Diet

Olivia Murray


Heart function can be affected by lifestyle choices.  Heart rate variability (HRV) is a physiological phenomenon that accounts for the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and can be used as a means to assess cardiac health11.  A high HRV is indicative of good cardiac health and increased parasympathetic activity, while a low HRV has been associated with poor cardiac outcomes in adults7.  This study investigated the correlation between overall diet and HRV.  Thirty-two participants aged 18-22 years old were recruited based on diet.  Diets represented included vegetarian and gluten-free, as well as participants with no dietary restrictions.  A 5-minute electrocardiogram (ECG) was performed on each participant. Software supplied by ADInstruments was used to generate a spectral analysis of HRV by applying a Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT).  Frequencies were subdivided as Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Low Frequency (LF), which correlates to a combination of sympathetic and parasympathetic effects, and High Frequency (HF), which correlates to parasympathetic effects. Time domain and frequency domain measures of HRV were analyzed through SPSS.  No significant differences between the diet groups were found; however, there were differences in the standard deviation of all normal RR intervals (SDRR) of each group (vegetarian = 104.66 ms, gluten-free = 81.5 ms, healthy = 66.34 ms, unhealthy = 59.13 ms, and control = 87.07 ms).  A moderate negative correlation was found between consumption of fast food and frequency HRV measures (HF power: r = -.397, p = .024), indicating that with increasing fast food consumption, there is an increasing risk for adverse cardiac outcomes.  In general, diet does seem to result in small differences in HRV, especially between the unhealthy diet group and the vegetarian diet group, specifically for the LF domain (p = 0.17).  Additionally, after sorting the data through time domains, it was found that the vegetarian group had an SDRR value greater than 100 ms, correlating with a low risk of cardiac problems as determined by previous parameters14.


Heart Rate Variability, Autonomic Balance, Diet

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