Complementary Therapies

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About two thirds of Australians are now using complementary therapies in some way to improve their health, combat illness or even prolong their lives. Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional medicines or treatment.

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.

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. Complementary therapies contain active ingredients and can therefore also cause unwanted side effects, including allergic reactions,  whether it’s ingested, inhaled or applied to your skin.

Plus, there is a risk they may also interact or “clash” with your antiepileptic medication, changing the way it is absorbed, metabolised or excreted from your body. Always seek advice from a health care professional before commencing any complementary therapy.

Antiepileptic medication cause nutrition deficiencies

Some antiepileptic medications can change how many nutrients are absorbed or metabolised in the human body. Therefore people with epilepsy taking antiepileptic medication may be at higher risk of a nutrient deficiency. Supplementation is useful in people with a confirmed deficiency.

It is well known that long-term use of antiepileptic medication affects bone density and increases the risk of bone fractures.

Many people with epilepsy prefer to take vitamin supplements. This is generally not a problem, but it is important for people planning on trying any alternative, complementary, herbal or nutritional therapies to consult with their doctor or neurologist first.

Never stop taking antiepileptic medication suddenly or attempt to alter the dose without consulting your doctor. This can lead to serious or life threatening seizures.

Nutrients that may be affected

  • Folic acid
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin B6 and B12
  • Selenium
  • Zinc and Selenium

This is a short list of possible deficiencies. Not all medications cause this. There is possibly a role for nutritional supplementation to help reduce seizure frequency in some 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.

It is always recommended that you avoid any foods that you are allergic to or you feel are connected to your seizures.

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 antiepileptic medicatin. Some of these therapies can interfere with your medication or your medication may enhance their effects.

Examples include:

  • Commonly used herbal remedies, such as Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba), evening primrose oil and star flower, are thought to increase the risk seizures.
  • Seizures have been reported with some dietary supplements especially if they contain caffeine.
  • Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap), Piper guineense (west African black pepper) and inhaled lavender oil vapour are thought to have anti-seizure properties.
  • Some herbal remedies can change the medication absorption, metabolism or excretion from the body, thus can lead to lowering or increase in the levels in the bloodstream
    • 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.

Nutritional Supplements, Foods and Epilepsy

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 a trigger for your seizures, strategies to reduce stress can help. Using relaxation techniques such as meditation, muscle relaxation, mindfulness or breathing techniques, Tai Chi, yoga,  exercise or therapeutic massage are some ways to reduce stress. There are many apps that can help with stress reduction.

EEG Neurofeedback – evolving from biofeedback, is a therapeutic intervention that provides immediate feedback from a computer-based program that assesses a client’s brainwave activity. It has been used to teach people how to regulate their heart rate and 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. It is generally used to treat anxiety and depression. rTMS involves placing a very strong magnet over the persons scalp which 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.

Further information

Acupuncture

Aromatherapy

EEG neurobio feedback 

Magnetic brain stimulation

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