By: Jeanette Wong
What is Naturopathy?
Naturopathy involves the use of natural and non-toxic therapies in one’s medical treatment (Ratté). This includes therapies such as individual or collective administration of botanical plant substances, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic medicine (National University of Natural Medicine). Unlike most medical examinations, naturopathy appointments may last hours, where a large component of the visit involves naturopathic practitioners actively engaging with their patients, and listening to the patient’s life stories (Bastyr University). Thus, naturopathy is a healthcare system assimilating scientific evidence and natural elements to treat and heal patients’ ailments, seeking to restore their physiological and psychological well-being (Ratté).
While the origins of naturopathic treatments can be traced back to the late 18th century, there has been growing consumer regard for nature’s inherent healing abilities for various diseases (National University of Natural Medicine). Approximately 44% of individuals suffering from seizure disorders use naturopathic treatments alongside their antiepileptic medications (Epilepsy Toronto).
The benefits of naturopathic treatments can be summarized in three points: it is affordable, non-invasive, and avoids many detrimental effects of antiepileptic medications (Han, 2022). There is anecdotal evidence that, by facilitating the body’s natural self-healing abilities, individuals can avoid the detrimental side effects of antiepileptic medications (Gettings, 2017), such as unintended weight gain and lower chances of getting pregnant (Gettings, 2017). For example, by turning to naturopathic treatments and engaging in a yeast control diet, one naturopathic practitioner eventually overcame her epilepsy, despite having taken antiepileptic medications such as Depakote for years (Gettings, 2017).
Moreover, naturopathic treatments can be more affordable than antiepileptic medications and surgery, since most naturopathic treatments involve cheaper options such as herbal concoctions, vitamin supplements, or an exercise regimen directed by an instructor (Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium, 2015).
Lastly, naturopathic treatments employ noninvasive techniques that are more comfortable for individuals, even allowing a meditative experience, encouraging the body’s self-healing properties through natural, non-toxic means.
What are some naturopathic treatments available for epileptic individuals?
Disclaimer: No diet, supplements, or exercise regimen should be attempted without the recommendation and guidance of a certified nutritionist and neurologist.
Although every individual’s naturopathic treatment regimen differs, educating oneself on the benefits and suitability of certain naturopathic treatments is useful. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some naturopathic treatment options available for individuals with epilepsy which you can discuss with your neurologist or naturopathic doctor.
(1) Dietary options
Dietary regulations and regimens have been scientifically proven to reduce seizure frequency and severity for individuals across ages (McMahan, 2015). As such, it is advisable to start individuals on specific nutritional supplements and diets from a young age after being diagnosed with epilepsy.
Below is a list of restricted diets that may be beneficial in reducing seizure frequency:
- Low-glycemic index diet (LGIT):
LGIT works by monitoring the daily intake of carbohydrates, focusing on carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index (how high the food ingested raises one’s blood glucose level) (Pfeifer, 2022). The LGIT encourages a daily carbohydrate intake of 40-60 grams based on portion size, or as recommended by a certified dietitian (McMahan, 2015). This could include high-fat foods such as heavy cream, bacon, and others, as long as the glycemic index of the food ingested is low (preferably ≤ 50) (Pfeifer, 2022).
Though some individuals may face acidosis as a side effect, it is easily countered through bicarbonate solution supplementation, without affecting the diet’s efficacy (McMahan, 2015). Otherwise, many individuals have reported positive weight reduction after the LGIT has been initiated.
- Modified Atkins diet (MAD):
MAD is a modified version of the traditional ketogenic diet wherein individuals have no restriction on their daily fat and protein intake (Sirven and Schachter, 2022). However, during MAD, one’s intake of carbohydrates is limited to 10-20 grams per day (McMahan, 2015).
- Ketogenic diet:
Lastly, and probably the most well-known, is the ketogenic diet, the strictest form of dieting for individuals diagnosed with epilepsy. The diet mostly allows only 3-4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate ingested and the food ingested has to be strictly weighed by the gram to scale (McMahan, 2015). Since this diet is restrictive and one’s food intake has to be accurate, individuals who are picky eaters may not find this suitable.
(2) Nutritional options
Though the ketogenic diet and its variants have shown established efficacy, safety, and tolerability in reducing seizure frequency and improving one’s lifestyle, taking nutritional supplements is recommended in making up for the possible nutrient deficiencies faced when participating in the diets or in anticonvulsant medication (Verrotti et al., 2020). Furthermore, nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of Vitamin B6, are often associated with a recognised cause of intractable seizures (Tong, 2014); (Mount Sinai Health System). Common nutrient deficiencies that are linked to antiepileptic medicine include: Calcium, Biotin, Folic acid, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Vitamin B12, Thiamine (B1), Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), and Zinc (Epilepsy Toronto); (Mount Sinai Health System). However, this list is not finite, and caution has to be enacted when taking nutritional supplements alongside antiepileptic medication.
Below is a list of nutritional supplements that may potentially reduce seizure frequency:
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):
Deficiency of this vitamin has been found in 40-60% of individuals with epilepsy on antiepileptic medication (Epilepsy Toronto). Thus, taking moderate doses of Vitamin B6 can be done in medication-controlled epilepsy. However, high doses have been reported to possibly interfere with the anticonvulsant properties of drugs (Epilepsy Toronto). Therefore, like all other supplements, it is recommended to seek out a nutritionist for a proper dosage regimen.
- Vitamin E:
Studies show that individuals with epilepsy often face low blood levels of Vitamin E due to the medication taken (Najafi et al., 2016). Since Vitamin E deficiency is known to be a causal factor in seizures, Vitamin E supplementation can help reduce seizure frequency and nutrition deficiency when on antiepileptic medication (Epilepsy Toronto).
- Vitamin B (Folic acid):
Vitamin B is another compound that when deficient, could lead to an increase in epileptic seizure frequency (Deopa et al., 2018). Antiepileptic drugs such as Phenytoin, carbamazepine, and barbiturates decrease the uptake of folic acid by our digestive system, decreasing the blood levels of folic acid in our bodies (Epilepsy Toronto). Low and moderate doses can thus help control seizure frequency. However, similar to Vitamin B6, high doses of Vitamin B may interfere with seizure control medicine (Epilepsy Toronto).
Taurine is an essential amino acid in stabilizing cell membranes in electrically active tissues in the nervous system (Walle, 2022). Studies have shown that individuals with epilepsy may have significantly lower levels of taurine (Epilepsy Toronto). Hence, taking taurine supplements may help in seizure control and seizure reduction in individuals with pharmacoresistant epilepsy (Kumar and Goel, 2017).
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Results of studies researching the effects of Omega 3 fatty acids on epilepsy seizure frequency reduction are varied (Epilepsy Toronto). However, they have anti-inflammatory properties that could prevent cardiology-related issues and hence the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) (Epilepsy Toronto).
(3) Botanical/Herbal medicine
Consequently, botanical and herbal medicine is another well-sought-after complementary therapy in epilepsy treatment (Moawad). Though there is currently no scientific evidence on the efficacy of botanical and herbal medicine in reducing seizure frequency, these natural methods can still be used to strengthen the body’s overall physiological health (Ekstein and Schachter). From supporting an individual’s immune system to balancing one’s hormones and improving sleep, botanical herbs can play an important role in a patient’s healing process (Epilepsy Toronto). Additionally, natural substances present in botanical and herbal medicine such as: flavonoids, saponins, glucosides, and alkaloids, inhibit inflammation and can regulate neurotrophic factor signaling pathways linked to seizure control (He et al., 2021). Thus, more research has to be conducted on the clinical efficacy of several botanical and herbal remedies.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of botanical herbs which have the potential in reducing seizure frequency:
- Botanical herbs that show potential in reducing seizure frequency (Epilepsy Toronto):
- Water hyssop
- Botanical herbs that show potential in reducing seizure threshold (Epilepsy Toronto); (Mount Sinai Health System):
- Evening primrose oil
- Green tea
- Yohimbe (may have proconvulsant effects as well)
Meanwhile, there are botanical herbs that could potentially be dangerous for epileptic individuals as they interfere with the anti-convulsant effects of antiepileptic medicine, or are proconvulsant in nature (Ekstein and Schachter). These herbs should be avoided in order to prevent an increase in seizure frequency.
- Botanical herbs that may have proconvulsant effects (Epilepsy Toronto); (Mount Sinai Health System):
- Coffee (Caffeine)
- Ephedra/Ma Huang
- St. John’s Wort
- Botanical herbs that alter the absorption or metabolism of antiseizure medication (Epilepsy Toronto); (Mount Sinai Health System):
- Milk thistle
- American hellebore
(4) Physical Medicine
Finally, stress-relief techniques like yoga are helpful methods in allowing the body to physically, and hence psychologically, relax. Research has shown that yoga induces relaxation and reduces stress (Panebianco et al., 2017). This has a direct influence on the autonomic nervous system and hence electroencephalogram (EEG) readings, as an individual’s seizures become more controlled (Panebianco et al., 2017). Although more research is required to test the clinical efficacy of yoga on seizure control, a study has shown that epileptic individuals reported an increased quality of life with yoga (Panebianco et al., 2017). Furthermore, chiropractic, osteopathic, acupuncture or naturopathic manipulation may help relieve the effects of seizures after incidents like head trauma (Mount Sinai Health System).
Is naturopathy right for me?
If you feel that antiepileptic medications are taking a toll on your body, using naturopathic treatments as complementary therapy could be helpful in easing any physical or psychological pain (Ratté). However, it is essential to discuss with your neurologist the naturopathic treatment options available and search for credible naturopathic doctors. For more information on the naturopathic doctors available, you can visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (Click here for the link) to contact one!
Like all other treatments, it takes time to experiment with the array of naturopathic treatments available to find the most suitable treatment for you. Nevertheless, naturopathic treatments could be an essential factor in improving one’s quality of life when living with epilepsy (Cherney, 2019). This makes naturopathic treatments a viable primary and complementary therapy option for many individuals with epilepsy.
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