Many Australians are now using complementary therapies in some way to improve their health, combat illness or even prolong their lives.
Complementary therapies such as herbal remedies, homeopathy, supplements, yoga, aromatherapy, and acupuncture can help to promote well-being and underlying health, as well as reduce stress. In people with epilepsy, they are often used in conjunction with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).
However, many people believe that these therapies are safe because they are derived from natural sources, but this isn’t always true. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Any complementary therapy is a drug, whether it’s ingested, inhaled or applied to your skin.
These therapies aren’t without side effects and can sometimes act on the body in a negative way, particularly if you don’t seek advice. Plus, they may also interact or “clash” with your AEDs.
Antiepileptic medication cause nutrition deficiencies
Antiepileptic medications have been shown to induce nutrition deficiencies. It is well known that long-term use of AEDs affects bone density and increases the risk of bone fractures.
For this reason, many people with epilepsy prefer to take vitamin supplementation. This is generally not a problem, but it is important for people planning on trying alternative, complimentary, herbal or nutritional therapies to consult with their doctor or neurologist first.
Never stop taking antiepileptic medication suddenly or attempt to alter the dosage on your own. This can lead to serious or life threatening seizures.
Nutrients depleted by antiepileptic medication
Antiepileptic medication may deplete or decrease the absorption of the following nutrients. Supplementation is useful in people with a confirmed deficiency.
- Folic acid.
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin B6.
There is possibly a role for nutritional supplementation to help reduce seizure frequency in people with poorly controlled epilepsy Be careful if you purchase via the internet as quality control may be poor. Australia has more stringent regulations in this area.
Mixing with antiepileptic medication
If wish to explore the use of herbal or nutritional supplements to talk to your doctor, pharmacist and also a naturopath to discuss taking these alongside AEDs. Some of these therapies can interfere with your AEDs or your medications may enhance their effects.
- Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap), Piper guineense (west African black pepper) and inhaled lavender oil vapour are considered to have anti-seizure properties.
- On the other hand, other commonly used herbal remedies, such as Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba), evening primrose oil and star flower, are thought to reduce the seizure threshold leaving the person more vulnerable to seizures.
- Some herbal remedies mix with AEDs by changing drug absorption, metabolism or elimination, thus leading to a lowering or increase in the levels of the AED in the blood.
- For example Shankpushpi, a herbal remedy used as a tranquiliser and to lower blood pressure, interacts with phenytoin (Dilantin) lowering the blood levels.
- Mentat, a product made up of more than 20 herbs and advertised as a sedative and ʻoffering protection against seizuresʼ, increases the bioavailability (blood level) of Carbamazepine (tegretol), which can lead to high blood levels.
These are just some examples. If you notice any side effects check with your therapist and doctor/neurologist immediately.
Using alternative and complementary therapies with epilepsy
Stress Management – many adults with epilepsy report they have more seizures at times of increased or prolonged periods of stress. If stress is identified as an individual trigger for seizures, strategies to reduce stress can be beneficial using relaxation techniques such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, controlled breathing, therapeutic massage and hypnosis.
EEG Neurofeedback – evolving from biofeedback which has been used to teach people how to slow their heart rates, neuro-feedback uses EEG and visual feedback to teach people to exert some control over their brainwaves. It is unknown how these changes reduce seizure activity, however, 18 studies on humans have shown up to a 50% reduction in seizure activity.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – Also known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), it has helped a small number of people with no other successful options for controlling their seizures. rTMS involves placing a very strong magnet over the persons scalp. The magnet generates a powerful, fluctuating magnetic field that induces small electrical currents inside the brain. It’s completely non-invasive. Experimental evidence has shown that low frequency rTMS has an anti-seizure effect and may have a role in future epilepsy treatment.
Aromatherapy – the use of concentrated essential oils as inhalations or in massage therapy has long been used as a means of relaxation for stress reduction. Studies on the use of essential oils on people with epilepsy and found that Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Chamomile and Bergamot have a beneficial effect while essential oils to avoid include Rosemary, Hyssop, sweet fennel and sage.
Acupuncture – There is some scientific evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture with epilepsy, but success is usually variable and limited. Although there is no strong proof acupuncture is beneficial in people with epilepsy, it should not be ruled out and is worthy of further investigation to determine who may benefit.
Some complementary therapies can help improve seizures indirectly because they make you feel better generally. For instance, if stress is a trigger for your seizures, a therapy that helps you to feel less stressed may help you to have fewer seizures.
Remember that some complementary therapies may increase the risk of seizures. To help make sure therapies are suitable for you, always use a qualified therapist and tell them you have epilepsy any other conditions you have, plus any medication you are taking.
Like with medications, people respond differently, and some therapies may help reduce seizures for some people, and not others.
Epilepsy Action Australia does not endorse the use of any of these products. Medical information and knowledge changes rapidly and you should consult your doctor for more detailed information. This is not medical advice and you should not make any medication or treatment changes without consulting your doctor.
Complementary therapies. Epilepsy Society UK
Nutrient Depletion as a Side Effect of Anticonvulsant Therapy by Jane Sala Tenna. For a copy, please email Epilepsy360° on [email protected]
Locating a qualified naturopath, contact the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association on (03) 9811 9990 or www.anpa.asn.au , or contact the Australian Natural Therapists Association on 1800 817 577 or www.anta.com.au