Epilepsy is a disease that disrupts the electrical activity of the nervous system, causing seizures.
Children are the group most frequently diagnosed with new cases of epilepsy. In the United States, 300,000 children under 14 are affected by the condition. Some may outgrow the disorder, but most will not. The number of senior citizens with epilepsy is also 300,000.
People with epilepsy have a range of treatment options, including alternative therapies.
The illness is a complex condition, however, and all alternative treatment options must be looked at carefully, to ensure they are effective.
It is essential to work with a doctor when making changes in treatment, as every epileptic seizure can cause brain damage, and the effects build up. So, any treatment must work to avoid seizures.
Infections, which can cause scarring on the brain that leads to seizures, are among the more common causes of epilepsy.
In the over 65s, strokes are the most common cause of new seizures. Family history and brain injuries account for other cases.
However, the Epilepsy Foundation say the cause is unknown in 60 percent of people.
People with epilepsy and their doctors are expressing growing interest in alternative therapies.
Although antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) help most people control their symptoms, these do not work for everyone. Furthermore, some people are concerned about the long-term safety of these drugs.
Complementary health practices for epilepsy, such as the eight natural remedies discussed here, are designed for use in combination with AEDs.
After talking to a doctor, and before beginning natural treatments, people with epilepsy should ensure they are working with a well-qualified and informed therapist.
Common complementary treatments for epilepsy include the following:
Cannabis sativa, or marijuana, as it is commonly known, has been used to treat convulsions for centuries. Today, it is attracting increasing attention from people with epilepsy, clinicians, and researchers.
Interest in the use of medical marijuana is particularly strong for the roughly 1 million U.S. residents whose seizures are not controlled by AEDs. Some families with young children, suffering from severe seizures, have moved to one of the 22 states where medical marijuana use is legal.
Charlotte's Web is a strain of cannabis bred to contain high levels of CBD, a part of the plant showing promise against seizures. It is named after a child whose convulsions dropped from more than 300 a week to 2-3 a month with this treatment.
However, since broad-based, well-designed scientific studies have yet to prove the effectiveness of marijuana in treating epilepsy, doctors do not generally recommend its use.
Diet is one of the earliest forms of treatment for epilepsy and is used with contemporary variations to make it easier for children and adults to adopt.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has had some success in reducing seizures in children who cannot tolerate or benefit from AEDs. It requires extensive commitment and monitoring.
The Atkins diet is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that is less restrictive and has shown positive effects.
Low glycemic index treatment (LGIT) is similar but allows for a targeted level of carbohydrate consumption.
Herbs are used for many illnesses by 80 percent of the world's population. Remedies drawing on Chinese traditions have shown promise in treating epilepsy.
Some herbs, such as chamomile, passionflower, and valerian, may make AEDs more effective and calming.
However, ginkgo, ginseng, and stimulating herbs containing caffeine and ephedrine can make seizures worse.
St. John's wort can interfere with medications and make seizures more likely, similarly to evening primrose and borage.
Caution is advised when working with all these herbs.
It is important to remember that herbs are not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If any herbs are used, they should be researched and bought from reputable sources.
Low levels of the B6 vitamin have been known to trigger seizures.
Magnesium, vitamin E, and other vitamins and nutritional supplements, have been identified as either promising or problematic for treating epilepsy.
Along with vitamin B6, magnesium, and vitamin E, which have been found to be helpful in treating epilepsy, doctors have found treatment with manganese and taurine reduced seizures, as well.
Thiamine may help improve the ability to think in people with epilepsy.
When AEDs do not work, some people have successfully used biofeedback to reduce seizures.
With the use of extensive training and a machine that detects electrical activity in the brain, the technique teaches individuals to recognize the warning signs of seizures, and train their brains to prevent a full-blown attack.
There are many different practices that people with epilepsy can follow on their own to help them feel calmer, relax their muscles, get better sleep, and enjoy a better state of mind.
All these actions taken together can help reduce seizures and make it easier for people to manage their epilepsy.
People should be cautious if trying meditation, as this can change the electrical signals in the brain.
Some essential oils used in aromatherapy, such as lavender, chamomile, jasmine, and ylang-ylang, have been found to be effective in preventing seizures when used with relaxation techniques.
However, the Epilepsy Society report that others may provoke seizures. These include spike lavender, eucalyptus, camphor, sage, rosemary, hyssop, and fennel.
Acupuncture and chiropractic
While acupuncture does not seem to be helpful in preventing seizures, people with epilepsy find it can reduce the stress of living with the condition.
There is little evidence on chiropractic care, but it also may be among the natural treatments people with epilepsy find useful.
Education and avoiding triggers
Education and avoidance can have a big impact on quality of life for people with this condition.
Many of those with epilepsy find that their seizures develop in response to specific triggers. This is the case for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
Learning how to avoid situations and stimuli that could spark a seizure can be very helpful. Some children may learn to avoid using video games in dark rooms, for example, or to cover one eye when exposed to flashing lights.
For many practices, there has not been enough study to give a definite answer to this question, one way or the other.
The following overview of the top natural treatments for epilepsy offers a quick summary of their reported effectiveness:
- Diet: The ketogenic diet, usually prescribed for children whose epilepsy does not respond to AEDs, has been shown to cut their seizures by half and eliminate seizures completely for 10-15 percent of those studied.
- Herbal treatments: Two studies of Chinese herbal compounds found them effective at reducing seizures in children and adults. But some herbs, such as St. John's wort, can make seizures worse.
- Vitamins: Many studies have linked low levels of vitamin B6, magnesium, and vitamin E to seizures. Treating people with supplemental doses helped reduce the frequency of seizures.
- Biofeedback: Researchers in 10 different studies showed that 74 percent of people whose epilepsy could not be treated with medication, reported fewer seizures after they learned this technique.
- Relaxation: Fewer seizures and a better quality of life were reported by children who took part in trials, according to research.
- Acupuncture and chiropractic: Scientific studies have not found acupuncture to be effective for people with epilepsy. However, positive outcomes were reported for some children with drug-resistant epilepsy who tried chiropractic therapy.
- Education: After learning more about epilepsy, coping strategies for it, and how to take medication, improved quality of life was observed for people of all ages with epilepsy.
Many reports on the effectiveness of complementary treatments for epilepsy come from personal experience, and from studies that are not considered conclusive.
Most importantly, people should always talk to their doctor before trying natural treatments to help ease their symptoms.