Epilepsy (Holistic)

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About This Condition

A sudden seizure is the most clear and common sign of this brain disorder. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Get some extra E

    Improve treatment results in children by supplementing with 400 IU of vitamin E a day

  • Check out Chinese herbal formulas

    Try 2.5 grams a day of sho-saiko-to or saiko-keishi-to in tea or capsules

  • Consider a Ketogenic diet

    To help reduce seizures in children, consult a specialist trained in initiating and supervising this special diet

  • Uncover food sensitivities

    Work with a knowledgeable professional to find out if eliminating certain foods reduces seizure frequency

About

About This Condition

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which abnormal bursts of electrical activity occur in cells of the brain, resulting in seizures.

There are many types of epilepsy, usually categorized by the symptoms that occur during seizures. The cause of many types of epilepsy is unknown, and frequently no cure is available. Rather, treatment focuses on reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.

Symptoms

There are many types of seizures in epilepsy. They are categorized as either partial or generalized, depending on how much of the brain is involved. Some types of epilepsy involve seizures characterized by convulsive muscle contractions of all or some parts of the body. Other types can involve momentary loss of consciousness, amnesia, unusual sensations or emotions, and other symptoms. Symptoms that indicate an imminent seizure (called auras) may occur. Similarly, non-convulsive symptoms, including deep sleep, headache, confusion, and muscle soreness (called a postictal state), may follow a generalized seizure.

Eating Right

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Consider a ketogenic diet
To help reduce seizures in children, consult a specialist trained in initiating and supervising this special diet.

The ketogenic diet was developed in the early twentieth century when few drug treatments for epilepsy were available; until recently, it had been used only when drug therapy was ineffective. The dietary approach was based on the observation that ketosis (increased blood levels of chemicals called ketones) is associated with reduction of seizures. Ketosis can be produced by a diet high in fat and very low in carbohydrate and protein. The ketogenic diet has been evaluated in several preliminary and a few controlled trials. According to a 1996 review, the ketogenic diet appears to be very effective in one-third to one-half of epilepsy cases in children, and partially effective in another one-third of cases.

Recent trials continue to support this success rate; one preliminary trial demonstrated a 50% reduction in seizure activity in 71% of children in a group after 45 days on the diet. There is little research on the effects of the ketogenic diet in adults, but it may be effective in those who are able to comply with the strict dietary guidelines. The diet is usually initiated by fasting under close medical supervision, often in a hospital, followed by introduction of the diet and training of the family to ensure successful maintenance.

Possible side effects of the ketogenic diet include gastrointestinal upset, dehydration, anemia, low blood protein levels, high blood levels of fat and acidity, kidney stones, and signs of liver toxicity. Vitamin and mineral supplementation is necessary due to the many deficiencies of this unusual diet. The ketogenic diet should not be attempted without the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. Practical information about the ketogenic diet is available in recent texts and articles, as well as on the Internet.

Try the Atkins diet
Some epileptics have become seizure-free on the Atkins diet, which is similar to the ketogenic diet but is easier to follow, as it allows more protein and has fewer calorie restrictions.

The Atkins diet is similar to the ketogenic diet, in that they are both high in fat and very low in carbohydrate. The Atkins diet, however, is easier to follow than the ketogenic diet, as it allows more liberal amounts of protein and has fewer calorie restrictions. Since the Atkins diet can produce ketosis, it has the potential to benefit people with epilepsy. In a preliminary study, three of six individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy experienced marked improvement on the Atkins diet; two of these people became seizure-free.

Uncover food sensitivities
Work with a knowledgeable professional to find out if eliminating certain foods reduces seizure frequency.

Allergic reactions to food have been reported to trigger epileptic seizures in individual cases, some of which were proven with double-blind testing. One report found people with epilepsy to have significantly more biochemical evidence of allergy than do non-epileptics. A study of children who suffered from both epilepsy and migraine headaches found that a diet low in potential food allergens reduced seizures in the majority of cases; however, children who had epilepsy alone without migraines did not respond to the diet. Another report confirmed that children who have epilepsy without migraines do not improve on a low-allergen diet. Some doctors recommend that people with epilepsy and other allergic symptoms, such as asthma or hay fever, should be checked for food allergies that may be causing seizures.

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?
Supplement Why
2 Stars
Fish Oil
3.25 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids
In one study, supplementing with a mixture of omega-3 fatty acids (primarily EPA and DHA, found in fish oil) reduced the frequency of seizures in some epileptic patients.
Consult a doctor for the amount to take. In a preliminary study, supplementation with 3.25 grams per day of a mixture of omega-3 fatty acids (primarily eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) for six months markedly reduced the frequency of seizures in five severely retarded epileptic patients. However, a double-blind trial found that fish oil was not beneficial in patients with epilepsy. A more recent double-blind trial found that a lower dose of fish oil (providing daily 1,080 mg of EPA + DHA) taken for 10 weeks reduced seizure frequency by one-third, whereas a higher dose (providing daily 2,160 mg of EPA + DHA) had no effect. Additional research is needed to determine whether fish oil is beneficial for people with epilepsy, and what the optimal level of intake is.
2 Stars
Magnesium
252 mg one to four times per day
In a retrospective chart review of patients with epilepsy, magnesium supplementation reduced seizure frequency by an average of 49% during follow-up periods of 3 to 12 months.
In a retrospective chart review of 22 patients with epilepsy that had failed to improve adequately with medications, magnesium supplementation was followed by a significant reduction in seizure frequency during follow-up periods of 3 to 12 months. The average reduction in seizure frequency was 49% after 6 to 12 months, and 36% of the patients had a decrease of at least 75% in seizure frequency. Controlled trials are needed to confirm these promising observations.
2 Stars
Sho-Saiko-To (Bupleurum, Peony, Pinellia, Cassia, Ginger, Jujube, Asian Ginseng, Asian Scullcap, and Licorice)
2.5 grams a day of sho-saiko-to or saiko-keishi-to in tea or capsules
The Chinese herb bupleurum is included in two herbal formulas, sho-saiko-to and saiko-keishi-to. Both have been shown to be helpful for epilepsy.

The Chinese herb bupleurum is included in two similar Chinese herbal formulae known as sho-saiko-to and saiko-keishi-to; these combinations contain the same herbs but in different proportions. The other ingredients are peony root, pinellia root, cassia bark, ginger root, jujube fruit, Asian ginseng root, Asian scullcap root, and licorice root. Both formulas have been shown in preliminary trials to be helpful for people with epilepsy. No negative interactions with a variety of anticonvulsant drugs were noted in these trials. The usual amount taken of these formulas is 2.5 grams three times per day as capsules or tea. People with epilepsy should not use either formula without first consulting with a healthcare professional.

2 Stars
Vitamin D
Refer to label instructions
In a preliminary study, correcting vitamin D deficiency resulted in a decrease in the number of seizures in patients with epilepsy who had failed to respond adequately to medications.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in people with epilepsy, partly because some anticonvulsant drugs deplete vitamin D. In a preliminary study, correcting vitamin D deficiency resulted in a decrease in the number of seizures in patients with epilepsy who had failed to respond adequately to medications.
1 Star
Bacopa
Refer to label instructions
One preliminary trial in India found that an extract of bacopa, an Ayurvedic herb, reduced the frequency of epileptic seizures in a small group of people.

One older preliminary trial in India found an extract of bacopa, an Ayurvedic herb, reduced the frequency of epileptic seizures in a small group of people. However, another similar preliminary trial gave inconclusive results. Controlled research is needed to properly evaluate whether bacopa is helpful for epilepsy.

1 Star
Folic Acid
Refer to label instructions
Folic acid may help reduce epileptic seizure frequency, people taking anticonvulsant medications should talk to their doctor before deciding whether to use folic acid.

Folic acid supplementation (5 mg per day) was reported to reduce epileptic seizure frequency, though the effect was not significantly better than with placebo. Folic acid supplementation of as little as 800 mcg per day has also been reported to interfere with the action of anticonvulsant medications, resulting in an increase in the frequency and/or severity of seizures; this effect occurs only in a small number of cases. People taking anticonvulsant medications should consult with the prescribing physician before deciding whether to use folic acid.

1 Star
Melatonin
Refer to label instructions
A small, preliminary trial found that melatonin improved sleep and improved seizure symptoms among children with one of two rare seizure disorders.

A small, preliminary trial found that 5 to 10 mg per day of melatonin improved sleep and provided "clear improvement of the seizure situation" among children with one of two rare seizure disorders. More research is needed to determine whether or not melatonin could benefit other people with epilepsy.

1 Star
Taurine
Refer to label instructions
Taurine, an amino acid that is thought to play a role in the brain's electrical activity, appears to temporarily reduce epileptic seizures in some people.

Taurine is an amino acid that is thought to play a role in the electrical activity of the brain; deficits of taurine in the brain have been associated with some types of epilepsy. However, while some short-term studies have suggested that taurine supplementation may reduce epileptic seizures in some people, the effect appears to be only temporary.

1 Star
Vitamin B6
Refer to label instructions
Vitamin B6 has helped children with seizures related to a genetic enzyme defect. However, it is not known whether supplementation would benefit people with epilepsy.

Vitamin B6 has been used to treat infants and small children who have seizures related to a genetic enzyme defect. However, this condition is not considered true epilepsy, and whether people with epilepsy would benefit from taking vitamin B6 supplements is unknown.