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 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.
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.
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.
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.1 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.2
Recent trials continue to support this success rate;3, 4, 5 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.6, 7 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.8, 9 Vitamin and mineral supplementation is necessary due to the many deficiencies of this unusual diet.10 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 11 and articles,12 as well as on the Internet.13
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.14
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,15, 16 some of which were proven with double-blind testing.17 One report found people with epilepsy to have significantly more biochemical evidence of allergy than do non-epileptics.18 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.19 Another report confirmed that children who have epilepsy without migraines do not improve on a low-allergen diet.20 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.21
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
3.25 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids
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.22 Additional research is needed to confirm this report and to identify which people with epilepsy are most likely to benefit.
252 mg one to four times per day
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.23 Controlled trials are needed to confirm these promising observations.
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 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.24, 25, 26 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.
Refer to label instructions
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.27
Refer to label instructions
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.28 However, another similar preliminary trial gave inconclusive results.29 Controlled research is needed to properly evaluate whether bacopa is helpful for epilepsy.
Refer to label instructions
Folic acid supplementation (5 mg per day) was reported to reduce epileptic seizure frequency, though the effect was not significantly better than with placebo.30 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;31, 32, 33, 34 this effect occurs only in a small number of cases.35, 36 People taking anticonvulsant medications should consult with the prescribing physician before deciding whether to use folic acid.
Refer to label instructions
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.37 More research is needed to determine whether or not melatonin could benefit other people with epilepsy.
Refer to label instructions
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.38
Refer to label instructions
Vitamin B6 has been used to treat infants and small children who have seizures related to a genetic enzyme defect.39, 40, 41, 42 However, this condition is not considered true epilepsy, and whether people with epilepsy would benefit from taking vitamin B6 supplements is unknown.
Find Drug Interaction Information
1. Wilder RM. The effects of ketonemia on the course of epilepsy. Mayo Clinic Proc 1921;2:307–8.
2. Prasad AN, Stafstrom CF, Holmes GL. Alternative epilepsy therapies: the ketogenic diet, immunoglobulins, and steroids. Epilepsia 1996;37:S81–S95 [review].
3. Vining EP, Freemen JM, Ballaban-Gil K, et al. A multicenter study of the efficacy of the ketogenic diet. Arch Neurol 1998;55:1433–7.
4. Freeman JM, Vining EP, Pillas DJ, et al. The efficacy of the ketogenic diet-1998: a prospective evaluation of intervention in 150 children. Pediatrics 1998;102:1358–63.
5. Neelam GK, Koehler AN, McGhee B, et al. The ketogenic diet in refractory epilepsy: the experience of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Clinical Pediatrics 2000;39:153–9.
6. Barborka CJ. Results of treatment by ketogenic diet in one hundred cases of epilepsy in adults. Assoc Res Nerv Ment Dis 1929;7:638–58.
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9. Prasad AN, Stafstrom CF, Holmes GL. Alternative epilepsy therapies: the ketogenic diet, immunoglobulins, and steroids. Epilepsia 1996;37:S81–95 [review].
10. Barron TF, Hunt SL. A review of the newer antiepileptic drugs and the ketogenic diet. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 1997;36:513–21.
11. Freeman JM, Kelly MT, Freeman JB. The epilepsy diet treatment. New York, NY: Demos, 1994.
12. Carroll J, Koenigsberger D. The ketogenic diet: a practical guide for caregivers. J Am Diet Assoc 1998;98:316–21.
14. Kossoff EH, Krauss GL, McGrogan JR, Freeman JM. Efficacy of the Atkins diet as therapy for intractable epilepsy. Neurology 2003;61:1789–91.
15. Stevens H. Allergy and epilepsy. Epilepsia 1965;6:205–16 [review].
16. Campbell M. Neurologic manifestations of allergic disease. Ann Allergy 1973;31:485–98 [review].
17. Crayton JW, Stone T, Stein G. Epilepsy precipitated by food sensitivity: report of a case with double-blind placebo-controlled assessment. Clin Electroencephalogr 1981;12:192–8.
18. Cunningham AS. Allergy, immunodeficiency and epilepsy. Lancet 1975;11:975 [letter].
19. Egger J, Carter CM, Soothill JF, Wilson J. Oligoantigenic diet treatment of children with epilepsy and migraine. J Pediatr 1989;114:51–8.
20. Van Someren V, Robinson RO, McArdle B, Sturgeon N. Restricted diets for treatment of migraine. J Pediatr 1990;117:509–10 [letter].
21. Crayton JW, Stone T, Stein G. Epilepsy precipitated by food sensitivity: report of a case with double-blind placebo-controlled assessment. Clin Electroencephalogr 1981;12:192–8.
22. Schlanger S, Shinitzky M, Yam D. Diet enriched with omega-3 fatty acids alleviates convulsion symptoms in epilepsy patients. Epilepsia 2002;43:103–104.
23. Abdelmalik PA, Politzer N, Carlen PL. Magnesium as an effective adjunct therapy for drug resistant seizures. <em>Can J Neurol Sci</em> 2012;39:323–7.
24. Yarnell EY, Abascal K. An herbal formula for treating intractable epilepsy: a review of the literature. Alt Compl Ther 2000;6:203–6 [review].
25. Narita Y, Satowa H, Kokubu T, et al. Treatment of epileptic patients with the Chinese herbal medicine “saiko-keishi-to” (SK). IRCS Med Sci 1982;10:88–9.
26. Nagakubo S, Niwa S-I, Kumagai N, et al. Effects of TJ-960 on Sternberg’s paradigm results in epileptic patients. Jpn J Psych Neur 1993;47:609–19.
27. Hollo A, Clemens Z, Kamondi A, et al. Correction of vitamin D deficiency improves seizure control in epilepsy: a pilot study. Epilepsy Behav 2012;24:131–3.
28. Mukherjee GD, Dey CD. Comparative study on the anti-epileptic action of some common phyto-products. J Exp Med Sci 1968;11:82–5.
29. Mukherjee GD, Dey CD. Clinical trial on Brahmi. J Exp Med Sci 1966;10:5–11.
30. Gibberd FB, Nicholls A, Wright MG. The influence of folic acid on the frequency of epileptic attacks. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1981;19:57–60.
31. Guidolin L, Vignoli A, Canger R. Worsening in seizure frequency and severity in relation to folic acid administration. Eur J Neurol 1998;5:301–3.
32. Lewis DP, Van Dyke DC, Willhite LA. Phenytoin-folic acid interaction. Ann Pharmacother 1995;29:726–35 [review].
33. Berg MJ, Rivey MP, Vern BA, et al. Phenytoin and folic acid: individualized drug-drug interaction. Ther Drug Monit 1983;5:395–9.
34. Reynolds EH. Effects of folic acid on the mental state and fit frequency of drug treated epileptic patients. Lancet 1967;1:1086.
35. Eros E, Geher P, Gomor B, et al. Epileptogenic activity of folic acid after drug induces SLE (folic acid and epilepsy). Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 1998;80:75–8.
36. Ueda S, Shirakawa T, Nakazawa Y, et al. Epilepsy and folic acid. Folia Psychiatr Neurol Jpn 1977;31:327–37.
37. Fauteck J, Schmidt H, Lerchl A, et al. Melatonin in epilepsy: first results of replacement therapy and first clinical results. Biol Signals Recept 1999;8:105–10.
38. Durelli L, Mutani R. The current status of taurine in epilepsy. Clin Neuropharmacol 1983;6:37–48.
39. Bankier A, Turner M, Hopkins IJ. Pyridoxine dependent seizures—a wider clinical spectrum. Arch Dis Child 1983;58:415–8.
40. Baxter P, Griffiths P, Kelly T, et al. Pyridoxine-dependent seizures: demographic, clinical, MRI and psychometric features, and effect of dose on intelligence quotient. Develop Med Child Neurol 1996;38:998–1006.
41. Jiao FY, Gao DY, Takuma Y, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of high-dose intravenous pyridoxine in the treatment of recurrent seizures in children. Pediatr Neurol 1997;17:54–7.
42. Goutieres F, Aicardi J. Atypical presentation of pyridoxine-dependent seizures: a treatable cause of intractable epilepsy in infants. Ann Neurol 1985;17:117–20.
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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