By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
Epileptic Seizures can be very scary.
My mom developed grand mal epilepsy when she was just 17. It was a side effect of a nasty bout with scarlet fever in the 1930s that would stay with her for life. Back then, epilepsy was unfairly – and inaccurately – lumped in with all sorts of psychological and mental disorders, leading those with the disorder to be stigmatized. Today, however, we know better. Epilepsy is actually a neurological condition that causes seizures – sudden surges of electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can be mild and hardly noticeable, or they can render the person unconscious, causing them to fall to the floor and shake uncontrollably for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
Most of the time, Mom has been able to manage her epilepsy with anti-seizure medication. But these drugs come with side effects, including fatigue, abdominal discomfort, dizziness, blurred vision, and rashes. But the most serious side effect is bone loss, which my mother now suffers from.
While these drugs do work for my mother, not everyone is so lucky. Some people never find an anti-seizure cocktail that eliminates their epileptic episodes. Luckily, there are natural strategies – including dietary and lifestyle changes – that hold promise for both those on drug therapy and for those who don’t respond to conventional medication.
Starve Away Seizures
Back in the 1920s, doctors learned that fasting improved the frequency of seizures. This discovery led to the ketogenic diet, the most popular of all epilepsy nutritional therapies. The diet was exclusively developed for epileptics to mimic starvation. While it was very effective, it fell out of favor when drugs took over in the 1930s. But now, the ketogenic diet is back, and it’s gaining popularity around the world.
Here’s how it works: The diet begins with a 24-hour fasting period to cleanse the system. After that, you restrict carbohydrates and instead get most of your calories from fats. People on the diet usually eat three to four grams of fat for every one gram of carbohydrate and protein. Nutritionists and neurologists tweak meals to induce ketosis, a state in which the body burns stored fat for fuel.
Doctors don’t know why ketosis reduces seizures, but it produces positive results for a lot of patients. Up to two-thirds of those who try the ketogenic diet get some degree of relief – and about 55 percent of those who respond positively experience a greater than 50 percent reduction in their seizures.
This type of high-fat diet may seem like an easy fix, but many people have a tough time sticking to the ketogenic diet. That’s problematic since there’s no cheating allowed on this diet – most medical experts believe strict compliance is mandatory. That’s probably why success rates are better for young children, whose parents can exercise complete control over what goes into their mouths.
Adopting a ketogenic diet also shouldn’t be done without the supervision of your doctor. And it’s best used for those who don’t respond to anti-seizure drugs.
In addition to nutrition, stress-busting physical activity can reduce seizures, too. And, while all types of exercise can help, many epilepsy experts advocate yoga. The type of yoga can also make a difference, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. Try Hatha yoga – which focuses on gentle postures and slow deep breathing – at least three times a week.
Aerobic exercise can also reduce stress, plus it gets your heart pumping. Opt for a minimum of three times a week, and work your way up to at least 30 minutes per session. Try walking with a buddy or riding a stationary bike. Just don’t try to do too much too soon.
Many neurologists mistakenly discourage exercise, because they’re afraid patients will have seizures. Yet, just 10 percent of patients actually have exercise-induced seizures. If you’re in that minority, take it slow and exercise with supervision in case you have a seizure. Also, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you don’t have control of your seizures, proceed with caution when choosing a piece of equipment or activity. For example, avoid a treadmill or the swimming pool, which can cause serious harm if you become unconscious.
Soothe Away Stress
Stress – either long-term or a sudden shock – can trigger a seizure. That’s why keeping stress under control is critical for preventing episodes. Supplementing with calming herbs and minerals can complement conventional epilepsy care. A 2001 study found that kava, valerian, chamomile, and passionflower may improve the effects of anti-epileptic medications, increasing their sedative and cognitive effects. The study also discouraged the use of stimulants like ephedra, caffeine, ginkgo, and ginseng, because they may exacerbate seizures.
But herbs aren’t the only calming supplements. Magnesium can also calm the mind and the nervous system. Foods high in magnesium include mushrooms, whole grains and nuts. But to make sure you’re getting enough to benefit your epilepsy, it’s best to take 250-350 mg. of this mineral per day.
One Last Thing …
Regardless of whether you’re on drug therapy or not, biofeedback may help control stress – and your seizures. In an attempt to diminish abnormal brain-wave activity and elevate the seizure threshold, biofeedback (sometimes referred to as neurofeedback) uses conditioning to help epilepsy patients. Although the practice has been around for many years, recent research indicates it’s still a viable treatment to reduce seizures.
Biofeedback uses EEG technology to look for abnormal brain waves and then teaches patients various techniques – using a game or puzzle perhaps – that will help them morph back into a normal pattern. Over time, these exercises may reduce the number of seizures. Before starting, however, find a practitioner who has experience working with epileptics. The Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (www.bcia.org) certifies practitioners and offers advice on how to find a credentialed one in your area.
Research Brief …
Even life’s little pleasures, like eating and kissing, lose their appeal when you’ve got a canker sore. But new research reports that licorice-root extract can heal these sores naturally.
Unlike cold sores that appear on your lips (contagious, fluid-filled blisters caused by the herpes-simplex virus), canker sores (which aren’t contagious) show up on the inside of your cheeks, lips, gums, or even under your tongue. They have a white or yellow center and a red border, and they’re usually brought on by stress, hormonal changes, or certain food sensitivities, such as wheat and dairy. Licorice-root extract stimulates the mucus-secreting cells necessary for mending the lining of your mouth.
Look for powdered licorice root labeled deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Crush the tablet and dissolve 200 mg. of it in three-quarters of a cup of warm water. Swish the mixture around in your mouth every morning and evening for one week or until the canker sore improves.
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Kossoff EH, et al. “Ketogenic Diets: Evidence for Short- and Long-term Efficacy.” Neurotherapeutics. 2009;6:406-414.
Martin MD, et al. “A controlled trial of a dissolving oral patch concerning glycyrrhiza (licorice) herbal extract for the treatment of aphthous ulcers.” General Dentistry. 2008;56:206-210.
Nagai Y, et al. “Changes in cortical potential associated with modulation of peripheral sympathetic activity in patients with epilepsy.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 2009;71:84-92.
Spinella M. “Herbal Medicines and Epilepsy: The Potential for Benefit and Adverse Effects.” Epilepsy & Behavior. 2001;2:524-532.