Epilepsy alternative treatment, diet, vitamins, supplements
June 15 2019 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. In people with this condition, brain cells create abnormal electricity that causes seizures. A seizure may cause "jerking" movements. In some cases, seizures cause only a loss of consciousness, a period of confusion, a staring spell or muscle spasms. This is a common neurological disorder that manifests in diverse ways. There are numerous types and numerous mechanisms by which the brain generates seizures. The two hallmarks are excessive excitability of neurons and hypersynchrony of neural circuits. A large variety of mechanisms alters the balance between excitation and inhibition to predispose a local or widespread region of the brain to hyperexcitability and hypersynchrony. A single seizure is not considered epilepsy. People with epilepsy have repeated episodes of seizures. One possible way to reduce the incidence is by reducing stress.
   Approximately 30% of patients with epilepsy remain refractory to drug treatment and continue to experience seizures whilst taking one or more antiepileptic drugs.

Diet, food
The ketogenic diet therapy provides a balanced high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that leads the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates for fuel altering the way brain cells use energy. This reduces the risk for seizures.

Natural supplements for epilepsy
I am still studying the role of a natural supplements in epilepsy treatment or prevention of reduction of seizures. I am hopeful that there are a number of supplements or herbs that could reduce the severity of this condition but researchers have not focused much attention on this topic yet.

Fish oils
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2015. Fish oil (n-3 fatty acids) in drug resistant epilepsy: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover study. :n-3 fatty acids inhibit neuronal excitability and reduce seizures in animal models. We performed a phase II randomised controlled crossover trial of low-dose and high-dose fish oil in participants with drug resistant epilepsy to explore whether low-dose or high-dose fish oil reduces seizures or improves cardiovascular health. Low-dose fish oil (3 capsules/day, 1080 mg eicosapentaenoic acid+docosahexaenoic acid) was associated with a 33.6% reduction in seizure frequency compared with placebo. Low-dose fish oil was also associated with a mild but significant reduction in blood pressure. High-dose fish oil was no different than placebo in reducing seizures or improving cardiac risk factors. In this phase II randomised crossover trial, low-dose fish oil was effective in reducing seizures compared with placebo. The magnitude of improvement is similar to that of recent antiepileptic drug trials in drug resistant epilepsy (DRE). The results indicate that low-dose fish oil may reduce seizures and improve the health of people with epilepsy

Fish oils may help reduce the number of seizures experienced by people with a form of tough-to-treat epilepsy that no longer responds to drugs, according to Dr. Christopher DeGiorgio, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online Sept 8, 2015 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
   Antidepressant drugs such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, i.e., Prozac, may be useful. SSRI drugs increase serotonin levels in the brain. Since tryptophan and 5-HTP also increase brain serotonin levels, one wonders if these natural supplements could reduce the severity of epilepsy or reduce the number of seizures.
   The ketogenic diet is helpful in reducing the risk of epilepsy.
   Those who have a tendency to have seizures should avoid the herb ginkgo biloba. J Nat Prod. 2010.

Epilepsia. 2016 . 5-Hydroxytryptophan, a precursor for serotonin synthesis, reduces seizure-induced respiratory arrest. The DBA/1 mouse is a relevant animal model of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), as it exhibits seizure-induced respiratory arrest (S-IRA) evoked by acoustic stimulation, followed by cardiac arrhythmia and death. Suppression of S-IRA by 5-HTP suggests that 5-HT transmission contributes to the pathophysiology of S-IRA, and that 5-HTP, an over-the-counter supplement available for human consumption, may be clinically useful in preventing SUDEP.

Some flavonoids can regulate microRNA expression associated with inflammation and cell survival. Therapeutic Potential of Flavonoids as Alternative Medicines in Epilepsy, Advances in Nutrition, May 2019.

There is not enough research yet to know for sure whether melatonin is helpful in adults who have seizures.

Physiol Res. 2013. Oxidative stress induced by epileptic seizure and its attenuation by melatonin.

Taurine amino acid
Epilepsy Res. 2013. Taurine and epilepsy. Oja SS1, Saransaari P. Dysfunction of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters or neuromodulators is thought to underlie epileptic symptoms. Taurine, 2-aminoethanesulfonate, is a ubiquitous free amino acid abounding in the brain of humans and most animal species. It hyperpolarizes neurons and inhibits their firing. It may be a participating factor in certain subpopulations of epilepsy patients but its deficiency is not a universal prerequisite for seizures. Here, the participation of taurine in animal seizure models and human epilepsy patients is reviewed.

Vitamin D supplement for those on epilepsy drugs
Taken for long periods, anti- epilepsy drugs can lead to brittle bones. High-dose vitamin D therapy significantly improves bone mineral density in this situation. Dr. Ghada El-Hajj Fuleihan from American University of Beirut Medical Center, and colleagues compared the effects of low-dose and high-dose vitamin D on bone mineral density in 72 adults and 78 children and adolescents taking anti epilepsy medications. The low dose consisted of 400 IU (international units) per day, and the high dose was 2000 IU per day for children and 4000 IU daily for adults. At the start of the study, 34 percent of the adults were in the deficient range of vitamin D levels and 46 percent were in the insufficient range. Among children, the corresponding figures were 18 percent and 44 percent. Bone mineral density was below normal in the adults, but in the children and adolescents it was still in the normal range. After treatment, none of the adults and only a few of the children in the high-dose group still had vitamin D deficiency, and relatively few had vitamin D insufficiency. Bone density in adults assigned to high-dose vitamin D increased significantly, but it didn't change much in the low-dose vitamin D group. For children, bone density increased with both low and high doses of vitamin D, with no differences between the dose groups. Neurology, 2006.

J Ethnopharmacol. October 28 2013. Ethnomedicinal plants used for treating epilepsy by indigenous communities of sub-Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, India. Although many plants are claimed to possess anticonvulsant/antiepileptic (AC/AE) properties, but there is very little information available about plants used by various ethnic communities in different parts of India to treat epilepsy, one of the most common disorders of central nervous system (CNS); this communication provides significant ethnomedicinal information on the plants used by indigenous communities: Bhoxa, Tharu and nomadic Gujjars of sub-Himalayan region, Uttarakhand, India to treat epilepsy, so that it could be used as a baseline data for studying chemical constituents and biological activities of these promising plants. To record herbal preparations used by the presently studied communities for treating epilepsy and discuss AC/AE properties of the recorded plants. Ninety one traditional healers (29 Bhoxa, 35 Tharu and 27 nomadic Gujjars) in sub-Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, India were interviewed to collect information on herbal preparations used by them for treating epilepsy. For each recorded species the use value (UV) and fidelity level (FL) was calculated. A total of 24 plants belonging to 24 genera and 22 families were used by the presently studied communities in 26 formulations to treat epilepsy. According to FL and UV values, most preferred species for the treatment of epilepsy by Bhoxa community are Ricinus communis and Datura stramonium; by nomadic Gujjar community are Martynia annua L., Bacopa monnieri and Ricinus communis L.; and by Tharu community are Allium sativum L., Asparagus racemosus and Achyranthes aspera Eight plants viz., Allium sativum, Boerhavia diffusa L., Cassia fistula, Clerodendrum viscosum, Datura stramonium L., Inula cappa DC., Oroxylum indicum (L.) Kurz and Pavetta indica L. recorded in the present survey have been reported for the first time in treatment of epilepsy by these indigenous communities in India. Five out of these eight newly reported plants viz., Cassia fistula L., Clerodendrum viscosum Vent., Inula cappa, Oroxylum indicum Kurz and Pavetta indica have not been pharmacologically evaluated yet for their possible AC/AE properties. Detailed research on the listed plants and their derivatives may be undertaken to provide new alternative treatments and therapeutic uses for epilepsy or other diseases of CNS. We hope that this article will stimulate further investigations into natural products for new AC/AE agents from the recorded ethnomedicinal plants.

A liquid form of medical marijuana may help people with severe epilepsy that does not respond to other treatment, American Academy of Neurology, news release, April 13, 2015.

Case study report
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016. Resolution of non-psychogenic epileptic-like seizures utilizing a vasodilatory and anti-inflammatory dietary intervention. A young female subject with ineffective pharmacological regulation of chronic vasoconstrictive-induced epilectic-like seizures was effectively treated with a dietary regimen targeted to promote vasodilatation and attenuate vascular inflammation. The intervention consisted of complete cessation of caffeinated beverages, supplementation with L-arginine to promote vasodilatation, consumption of foods rich in phytoestrogens, minimization of foods enriched with saturated fatty acids, supplementation with vitamin D concomitant with increased ingestion of dairy milk and supplementation with aged garlic extract

Marijuana, pot
A pharmaceutical-grade formulation of orally administered cannabidiol, a cannabis derivative, shows positive and promising safety and efficacy.

A purified oral version of a marijuana compound may help with treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy. Researchers found that the compound, cannabidiol (CBD), helped reduce seizure frequency in children and adults with two hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Epilepsy drug tolerance
Over time, some patients being treated for epilepsy show signs of tolerance to antiepileptic drugs. Tolerance is the reduction in response to a drug after repeated administration. Almost all first-, second-, and third-generation epilepsy drugs lose their antiepileptic activity during prolonged treatment. This tolerance may lead to a reoccurrence of the epilepsy. Tolerance is reversible with discontinuation of the drug or drugs. There are two types of tolerance: Pharmacokinetic (metabolic) tolerance due to induction of epilepsy drug -metabolizing enzyme has been demonstrated for most first-generation epilepsy drugs and may be easi to overcome by increasing the dosage of the drug. However, if the drug tolerance is not overcome by dose increments, the epilepsy may be considered drug resistant. Pharmacodynamic (functional) tolerance due to "adaptation of epilepsy drug targets (e.g., loss of receptor sensitivity) has been shown experimentally for all epilepsy medications that lose activity during prolonged treatment. Perhaps alternating different epilepsy medications may be an option for some people who have epilepsy. Epilepsia 2006.

Higher rate of infertility
Women may have a higher than average risk of fertility problems, perhaps partly due to medications used as treatment. Neurology, 2010.

J Clin Neurosci. 2013 Dec 3. Effect of anti-epileptic drug therapy on the unborn child. Antiepileptic drugs have been shown to be teratogenic, affect children's physical development and have neurodevelopmental effects. These drug-related effects are part of the major burden of epilepsy. Individual drugs need to be assessed via prospective studies, possible only by using pregnancy registers complying with ethical guidelines. Monotherapy data indicate valproate to be the most teratogenic drug, although it is the most effective drug and its teratogenicity is dose-related. To the author's knowledge no specific malformations have clearly been proven to be attributable to a specific drug with the exception of valproate. Other antiepileptic drugs appear to be mildly teratogenic and newer drugs are possibly safer.

Mental decline
Patients show signs of mild memory problems or Alzheimer's disease earlier than the general population. JAMA Neurology, news release, July 8, 2013

Suicide risk from epilepsy drugs
Patients receiving drugs commonly used to treat epilepsy are more likely to experience suicidal behavior compared to those receiving placebo. The increased risk, observed as early as the first week of treatment.
   Epilepsy drugs are associated with a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Epilepsy drugs include Pfizer Inc's Lyrica, GlaxoSmithKline's Lamictal, Johnson and Johnson's Topamax, and Abbott Laboratories Inc's Depakote. As of December 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration is requiring that the label of all anti epilepsy medications include a warning about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Epilepsy drug caused birth defects
Women who use the epilepsy drug topiramate (Topamax) during pregnancy are at risk for having a baby with a serious birth defect. Topiramate is licensed for use to treat certain seizures and for prevention of migraine.
   Use of the anti-seizure medication valproate during pregnancy has a negative, lasting impact on the brain of the developing baby.

Childhood absence epilepsy anti seizure drugs
A large-scale comparative test of three anti-epilepsy drugs found the oldest was best for treating childhood absence epilepsy, in which youngsters often stare into space for up to 20 seconds many times a day. Ethosuximide, available since the 1950s, offered the best protection for the condition. Lamotrigine fared the worst. A third treatment, valproic acid, worked nearly as well as ethosuximide, but interfered with concentration. The generic drugs used in the study were made by Pfizer Inc (Ethosuximide), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (Lamotrigine) and Abbott Laboratories (valproic acid). Dr. Tracy Glauser of Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, the New England Journal of Medicine, March 2010.

Children with epilepsy may have nutritional deficits
The nutrient levels in young children with poorly controlled epilepsy disorders is often below the recommended levels. Dr. Stella L. Volpe, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia did a nutritional analysis comparing 43 children with intractable epilepsy with 1,718 healthy children between 1 and 8 years of age. Intractable epilepsy was defined as one or more seizures every month, despite treatment with at least three antiepileptic drugs. The average age of the children was 5 years. Children with epilepsy ate statistically significant lower levels of total calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, dietary fiber, and multiple vitamins and minerals, compared with healthy children. Thirty percent of the children with epilepsy had lower-than-recommended intakes of vitamins D, E and K, folic acid, calcium, linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid. The younger children had lower levels of micronutrients than the older children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2007.

Cause of epilepsy
A severe brain injury puts people at high risk of epilepsy for more than a decade after they are first hurt. Excessive and traumatic stress can be a cause.

Babies born very preterm -- defined as 23 to 31 weeks of gestational age -- are several times more likely than full-term newborns to have this condition as an adult.

The number of American kids suffering from asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is on the increase, with poor children being hit the hardest. Children living in extreme poverty who had asthma and ADHD were nearly twice as likely to have at least one other chronic medical condition. These conditions included developmental delays, autism, depression, anxiety, behavioral or conduct issues, speech and language problems, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, and learning disabilities.

Medications that may cause it
Antidepressants lead to a higher risk for seizures in people being treated for depression:
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
SNRIs, or serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Other antidepressants, including bupropion, mirtazapine, reboxetine, and trazodone.

More Americans than ever are living with epilepsy. About 3 million adults and 470,000 children were treated for epilepsy or had experienced recent seizures in 2015.

Epilepsy natural treatment questions
Q. In regards to advising me on the suggested natural medications for my 10 year-old Autistic and Epileptic child. I want to give him carnosine, fish oils a multivitamins but i don't know the dosage and frequency to give it to him. He is on Topamax and Klonopin (both anticonvulsants) twice a day. He is now seizure free for a year.
   A. Thank you for your email we are not in a position to offer specific individual advice. We suggest having your doctor read this article and then give his or her opinion. One has to be very careful when combining supplements with epilepsy meds.

Q. My name is John B. Symes, D.V.M. I am a veterinarian who has been studying the effects of gluten-free/casein-free/soy-free/corn-free diets on canine (and now human) epilepsy for the past 7 years. I have witnessed phenomenal results in my canine patients and am now getting more and more testimonials from people who have successfully used the diet I outline (now called "The G.A.R.D.") on themselves or their epileptic children. I believe this will all make perfectly good sense to you, especially if you are already familiar with the link between celiac disease and epilepsy. I found your site by doing a search for "epilepsy diet". I know that your main interest is in the publication of medical information that is derived from peer-reviewed research but I thought that you might be interested in my work, which is currently under review by contacts I have made at Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, and the Cleveland Clinic. The results of "The G.A.R.D." (the glutamate-aspartate restricted diet) have been astounding for epilepsy, chronic pain syndromes, peripheral neuropathies, and much more. You will find my work at www.dogtorj dot net. Seven years ago I found out that I suffered from celiac disease. I quickly experienced a miraculous recovery from numerous long-term ailments, especially once I eliminated the others of what I call "the big 4"...gluten (wheat, barley, rye), dairy, soy and corn...the four "foods" capable of inducing the villous atrophy commonly associated with gluten intolerance. In the very first week of my study, I read that celiac children with epilepsy who were placed on gluten-free (GF) diets often had dramatic improvements in the severity and frequency of their seizures. This really grabbed my interest, as epilepsy in veterinary medicine was also considered "idiopathic". I began placing my epileptic canine patients on GF diets and the results were astounding. I then set out to understand WHY this was happening. That is what my Website is all about. Rather than going into great detail here, I will refer you to the Epilepsy and Diet section of my site (http://dogtorj.tripod.com/id2.html ). In that section, I explain how I developed The G.A.R.D. (the glutamate-aspartate restricted diet; also known as the gut absorption recovery diet). It dives into the role of the "excitotoxins" (glutamate and aspartate), the lectins of the "big 4", viruses, environmental issues (pollution) and even the seasonal influences (lack of sunlight->low serotonin->increased seizures) in the pathogenesis of epilepsy. I hope that you will find this interesting and helpful. I lecture at veterinary conferences and have even spoken at a human medical conference on this topic. In my mind, the research behind the G.A.R.D. helps to explain the successes (and failures) that your profession is seeing with the use of the ketogenic and now "modified Atkins" diets in epileptic people, neither of which eliminate all of the dietary culprits we have now identified as factors in canine epilepsy. The connections between celiac disease and epilepsy are well-established but gluten is clearly not the only culprit. By eliminating all of the "big 4", I believe both professions will realize the huge gains that I have seen in these patients. John B. Symes, D.V.M. (aka "Dogtor J") Beltline Animal Hospital, Mobile, AL

Q. My son has epilepsy (petit mal type), has jerk quite frequently (50-200 times a day). It is very short jerk, only few second. I am afraid of chemical medicine, since it will hurt the lever of my son in the long term use. As i know and already asked to the pediatric, the epilepsy medicine should be taken until all the epileptic symptoms gone and wait for 2-3 years to slowly reduce and stop the medicine. So, i am looking for natural herb that can cure or minimize epilepsy symptoms.
   A. We appreciate your email but we don't know of any such natural products for epilepsy at this time. We wish your son well.

Is creatine generally compatible with patients who are epileptics.
    I have not seen clinical trials that have evaluated the role of creatine in terms of its influence on seizures.

Q. I came across your site for the first time this morning, while searching for drug-free epilepsy treatments. I noticed that you have some info on potentially treating epilepsy through the use of supplements (as well as the ketogenic diet). I am interested in this approach, as I have had some continual side-effect issues w/ Carbatrol. Last year, I started losing a lot of hair, which led me to get a blood test to determine the cause. It turned out that I had very low Ferritin levels, low platelets, as well as a low WBC count. It took me a while to stabilize this condition, and even now I fear that some of the issues MAY be returning. A more recent potential side-effect is weak erection/emerging impotence. My Dr suggested Viagra or Levitra, but I don't want to complicate my condition with more drugs. Nor do I even want to continue the use of Carbatrol. I have what could be considered an 'alternative' Dr/Neurologist. She has helped me immensely, primarily with identifying some of the stress-related issues I've had that contribute to seizure disorders. I have posed the idea of getting on a regiment in which I might be able to treat my epilepsy drug-free. She has mentioned that there's no guarantee, but she thinks I might be a good candidate for this approach. So, I have 2 questions:Do you know of any cases in which people have treated epilepsy drug-free? And if so, what would be the process of me finding out what supplements might work for my case. I noticed the supplement 'Passion RX' on your site. Might this be something say, an epileptic, might be able to use without any major issues? I read and understand that you don't want to give specific medical suggestions, but any info you can give me to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.
   A. There's still much to be learned about the drug free approach to such treatment and I don't know yet of significant cures or natural remedies. It is very difficult to predict the effect of various sexual enhancement products on those who have such a condition since no such research is available. Plus, different people may have different reactions, so it is not easy to predict.

I read a while ago about bacopa having properties that ameliorate temperal lobe epilepsy and also effects of dilantin. Now i just see references to TLE and none to dilantin. I have a daughter on dilantin and so would like to know if bacopa is good for that medicine's side effects also.
   I don't have enough experience to know at this time.

Q. I have read an article which mentions pregnenolone and epilepsy treatment. I am a 36 years old woman who has had two babies and epilepsy for 25 years. It has now been established that I have catamenial epilepsy and AEDs do not address the issue satisfactorily...my epilepsy specialist nurse wants me to take synthetic progesterone only pill every day, but I would like to try pregnenolone...any more information you can offer on the treatment being successful would be hugely helpful!
   A. Anti-epileptic drugs are often not safe, but I have not seen any convincing research that pregnenolone would be of benefit.

Q. I am a father of an autistic child from China. My child is suffering from epilepsy in adolescence. The use of antiepileptic drugs is not so effective and has great side effects. Is there any treatment information and books for epilepsy in nutrition?
   A. There is limited research regarding the natural treatment of epilepsy but as I come across more info I will mention them in this article.

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2015. Weeding out bad waves: towards selective cannabinoid circuit control in epilepsy. Endocannabinoids are lipid-derived messengers, and both their synthesis and breakdown are under tight spatiotemporal regulation. As retrograde signalling molecules, endocannabinoids are synthesized postsynaptically but activate presynaptic cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) receptors to inhibit neurotransmitter release. In turn, CB1-expressing inhibitory and excitatory synapses act as strategically placed control points for activity-dependent regulation of dynamically changing normal and pathological oscillatory network activity. Here, we highlight emerging principles of cannabinoid circuit control and plasticity, and discuss their relevance for epilepsy and related comorbidities. New insights into cannabinoid signalling may facilitate the translation of the recent interest in cannabis-related substances as antiseizure medications to evidence-based treatment strategies.