Epilepsy is a group of disorders that affect the brain leading to seizures. These seizures vary in quality and intensity including from convulsions to loss of consciousness. However some types of seizures can be subtle rather than gross. What all epileptic seizures have in common, however, is abnormal electrical activity of the brain.
Should I take anti-Convulsive drugs?
Given the risk of serious seizures associated with some forms of epilepsy anticonvulsive drugs are often a necessary intervention. However anticonvulsive drugs have considerable risk and potential side effects. This implies that it is important to achieve as low a dose of these drugs as possible through the use of lifestyle and complementary medicines that work synergistically with anti-convulsive drugs.
Can Diet help minimise the risk of Seizure?
The most widely studied diet associated with epilepsy is a Ketogenic approach. This is a high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet with similarities to a modified Atkins approach. A Ketogenic diet has been found to reduce the seizure rate by 50% or more in between 20-50% of epileptics studied. However it is a highly restrictive diet that over the long term should be monitored (and hence prescribed) by a supervising medical professional. Continued commitment can also be difficult.
What about Meal Frequency?
Epilepsy may be triggered in some people by low blood sugar levels. For this reason eating small regular meals containing protein, nuts and seeds may be helpful.
Can Foods trigger Epilepsy?
In some cases, yes. A Food Elimination Regime is recommended to rule out any food triggers.
Are there any Foods I should Eat?
Quality Protein sources are encouraged, particularly the oily deep sea fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Herring and Sardines.
High Magnesium foods such as dark leafy greens, bananas, nuts and seeds are encouraged.
What about Nutrient/Herb Supplementation?
A nutrient and herb programme should always be integrated carefully into mainstream care, especially when anti-epileptic medications have been prescribed. The importance of a carefully networking team therefore cannot be overstated. Complementary therapies can assist with epilepsy management but must be integrated with traditional pharmaceutical medication.
Nutrients and herbs to consider include:
Fish Oils (EPA/DHA) can assist in reducing seizure frequency and damage associated with prolonged seizure.
The amino acid, Taurine, may be effective in increasing the neurotransmitter, GABA, important in reducing brain excitation. It may therefore help to reduce seizure frequency. The amino acid, Glutamine, may also be helpful.
L-Tryptophan or 5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan may be considered as a pre-cursor to the neurotransmitter, Serotonin. This may help to reduce the frequency of seizures.
Magnesium has an important relaxant role in the body and is critical in assisting neurotransmitter balance. Supplementation with magnesium (preferably in chelated forms and with cofactors such as the B Group Vitamins) can be important in reducing seizure intensity.
What about the side effects of treatment? Can Nutrients/Herbs help with these?
Many epileptics have reduced folate levels, in some cases linked to the use of anti-epileptic drugs (phenytoin). Supplementation with folate may help to reduce the subsequent rise in homocysteine. It may also help to reduce seizure frequency and length.
Anti-epileptic drugs may also reduce Vitamin D levels and hence affect bone strength. Supplementation with Vitamin D may be important with long term anti-convulsive drugs.
Epileptics using some anti-epileptic drugs (e.g. valproate) may require Selenium supplementation to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in pregnant women’s developing child.
All of the above supplements MUST only be considered under the guidance of a health professional.
Should I Exercise?
While many people with epilepsy are concerned regarding the dangers of experiencing a seizure during exercise, there is little evidence that any form of exercise increases the risk of seizure. While supervision may be necessary, exercise should not be avoided unless safety cannot be guaranteed (e.g. hang-gliding, parachuting, scuba diving, motor racing) as exercise has obvious benefits of general health.
What about Yoga?
Evidence suggests that Yoga can improve both the frequency of seizures and quality of life in epileptics.
Smoking...the answer’s Obvious?
As there is evidence that heavy metals can trigger epilepsy, active and passive smoking should be avoided.
If you cannot quit without assistance, this being the majority of smokers, it may be sensible to join a multidisciplinary programme. Peer support if often essential to the success of any quit smoking plan.
Remember, or although pharmaceutical approaches that replace nicotine via chewing gum, patch or otherwise are helpful, eventually they must be weaned otherwise you may simply be trading the risk of lung cancer for other diseases.
How important is regular Sleep Patterns?
A variety of responses to sleep and sleep deprivation appear to trigger epilepsy in different people. The treatment of underlying sleep disorders is therefore recommended. In regards to this, Ketogenic dietary approaches appear to improve sleep patterns. Otherwise review the recommendations in the Sleep Health section. You should also review your medications to see if they may be contributing to any sleep difficulties.
Sunshine is important for several reasons. Firstly, healthy Sleep and Sunshine patterns are important to regulate healthy sleep-wake cycles. Furthermore sunshine will assist maintain healthy Vitamin D levels that may be affected by the use of anti-convulsive drugs. At least 15 minutes of sunshine should be achieved each day, free of sun protection to activate Vitamin D. This should be achieved without the risk of excess sun exposure.
What about Mind-Body Therapies and Stress Management?
Several Mind-Body therapies have been studied and found to be effective to support epilepsy management. These include:
As stress may trigger epileptic episodes stress management techniques may also be helpful to place life in perspective including:
Other Effects Based Stress Managements techniques
Cause Based Stress Management Techniques
Achieving Work Life Balance
What about Physical Therapies?
It is suggested that acupuncture, electro-acupuncture and chiropractic treatment may assist in some forms of epilepsy, although the evidence is presently limited.
What about the Environment?
Some environmental triggers that may be associated with epileptic seizures include:
Heavy metals from industry