• Ketogenic Diet,
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes recurrent episodes called seizures. A seizure is sometimes described as an electrical storm in the brain leading to abnormal movements, sensations, and states of consciousness. In reality, however, it is more orderly than a storm. During a seizure, nerves function in an abnormally synchronized manner, a kind of lockstep that can continue for seconds or minutes. The results range from mild changes in awareness to violent convulsions.
Isolated seizures can occur for many reasons. The term epilepsy is applied when a person has recurrent seizures with no known treatable cause. If the seizure occurs in a localized part of the brain, it is called a partial seizure . If it affects much of brain, it is called a generalized seizure .
The most common forms of generalized seizures are absence seizures (petit mal) and tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal). Petit mal seizures involve a brief lapse of consciousness that occurs suddenly and lasts for a brief time before disappearing; there are usually no symptoms afterward. A grand mal seizure involves: loss of consciousness, convulsions of the body, tongue biting, and often urination. A state of confusion follows the seizure.
Partial seizures come in three main varieties. They can be simple (involving just an arm, for example) or complex (involving more complicated movements and loss of consciousness). Finally, some may turn into generalized seizures. There are several medications used to treat epilepsy, generally with considerable success. Most of these drugs can cause significant side effects, though. Fortunately, some of these side effects may be partially correctable through nutrient supplementation (see the
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
There are no well-established herbs or supplements for the treatment of epilepsy. However, a number of supplements may be useful for treating nutritional deficiencies caused by anticonvulsant drugs. Besides herbs and supplements, the ketogenic diet might be helpful for controlling seizures in children.
Note : Epilepsy is far too serious a condition for self-treatment. For this reason, none of the treatments listed below should be used without the advice and supervision of a doctor.
Before drug treatments for epilepsy were invented, scientists noticed that fasting tends to reduce seizure frequency. Subsequent investigation pinned down a metabolic state called ketosis as the causative factor. Ketosis occurs during fasting and also while consuming a diet high in fat and very low in carbohydrates (the ketogenic diet).
When effective anticonvulsant drugs were developed, the ketogenic diet fell into disfavor, but in recent years medical interest has returned. Today, the diet is seeing increased use in the treatment of people who do not respond fully to standard medications. Most studies have involved children because they tend to be more agreeable than adults to the diet.
Evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet may almost completely stop seizures in about half of all children with epilepsy and reduce seizure frequency less dramatically in another third.
Unfortunately, the ketogenic diet can cause side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, reduced immunity, mental confusion, dehydration, constipation, and increased tendency to bruise.
Many drugs can impair the body’s ability to absorb or metabolize certain nutrients; however, anticonvulsants are particular offenders. Meaningful evidence indicates that common anticonvulsants interfere with the body’s handling of folate
However, there’s a potential catch to correcting such “nutrient depletions.” In some cases, taking the nutrient can impair the absorption or alter the metabolism of anticonvulsant drugs. In other cases, it is possible that nutrient depletion is part of how the anticonvulsant operates! For this reason, physician supervision is essential when taking any supplements.
(also known as folic acid) is a B vitamin that plays an important role in many vital aspects of health. Unfortunately, most drugs used for preventing seizures can reduce levels of folate in the body.
Low folate levels are also linked to increased risk of a variety of birth defects. Because anticonvulsant drugs deplete folate, babies born to women taking anticonvulsants are at increased risk for such birth defects.
However, the case for taking extra folate is complicated by the fact that high folate levels may speed up the normal breakdown of phenytoin
Numerous anticonvulsants can reduce body levels of the essential vitamin
, probably by interfering with its absorption.
It is not clear whether this biotin deficiency actually causes any problems. Nonetheless, it is not good to be short on any essential nutrient, and for this reason biotin supplementation has been recommended during long-term anticonvulsant therapy. Keep in mind, though, that the action of anticonvulsant drugs may be at least partly related to their effect on biotin levels. For this reason, physician supervision is strongly advised before adding biotin to an anticonvulsant regimen.
Many anticonvulsant drugs increase the risk of
Phenytoin, carbamazepine, phenobarbital, and primidone speed up the normal breakdown of
In other circumstances, anticonvulsants seldom deplete vitamin K enough to cause bleeding problems. However, vitamin K deficiency may contribute to anticonvulsant-induced osteoporosis.
Valproic acid (Depakene) and possibly other anticonvulsants may reduce the body’s levels of the substance
Other Proposed Treatments for Epilepsy
Herbs and Supplements
traditional Chinese herbal remedies
known by the Japanese names saiko-keishi-to and sho-saiko-to have also been suggested for epilepsy, but the supporting evidence for their use remains highly preliminary.
A double-blind study performed in Iran reportedly found that use of an extract of the seed of the
plant helped control seizures in children.
Other supplements sometimes suggested for epilepsy (but with no meaningful supporting evidence) include
However, there is no meaningful evidence that they can help, and some of these herbs present significant safety concerns.
Note : Most herbs used for epilepsy are sedatives, as are many anticonvulsant drugs. Combination treatment could lead to dangerous over-sedation. People with epilepsy should, therefore, seek medical supervision before using any herbs or supplements.
A special form of
Acupuncture has been proposed for the treatment of epilepsy, but at this time there is no convincing evidence for its effectiveness. A single-blind, controlled trial of individualized acupuncture for 34 people with severe epilepsy found no benefit.
Herbs and Supplements to Avoid in Epilepsy
Numerous herbs and supplements have been associated with unexpected or unexpectedly severe seizures. 67
Many anti-epilepsy drugs work by blocking the effects of a substance called glutamate; for this reason, high dosages of the closely-related amino acid
Manufacturers of the supplement
Tea made from the herb
Japanese star-anise contains substances that can trigger seizure activity.
Grapefruit juice slows the body's normal breakdown of several drugs, including the anticonvulsant
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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