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 health and well-being, as well as reduce stress.
Many people believe that these therapies are safe because they more “natural”, but this isn’t always true. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Complementary therapies contain active ingredients and can 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 not mix well with your antiseizure medication, and may affect the way it is absorbed, metabolised or excreted from your body. Always seek advice from a health care professional before commencing any complementary therapy.
Antiseizure medication may cause nutrition deficiencies
Some antiseizure medications can change how nutrients are absorbed or metabolised in the human body. Therefore people with epilepsy taking these medication may be at higher risk of a nutrient deficiency.
It is also known that long-term use of some antiseizure medication affects bone density and increases the risk of bone fractures.
Like the general community, many people with epilepsy take vitamin supplements. This is generally not a problem, but it is important for people planning on trying any complementary therapies to speak with their doctor or health professional first.
Never stop taking antiseizure medication suddenly or attempt to change the dose without speaking to your doctor. This can lead to serious or life threatening seizures.
Nutrients that may be affected
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6 and B12
- Zinc and Selenium
This is a short list of possible deficiencies. Not all medications cause this.
Be careful if you purchase supplements via the internet as quality control may be poor.
It is always recommended that you avoid any foods, supplements or ingredients that you are allergic to, or you feel are connected to your seizures.
Mixing with antiseizure medication
If you wish to use any supplements, talk to your doctor, pharmacist and/or naturopath and discuss taking these alongside antiseizure medication. Some of these therapies may interfere with your medication or your medication may enhance or change their effects.
Supplements to be cautious about include:
- Commonly used herbal remedies, such as Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba), evening primrose oil and star flower. These are thought to increase the risk seizures.
- Seizures have been reported with some dietary supplements especially if they contain caffeine.
- Some herbal remedies can change the medication absorption, metabolism or excretion from the body, thus can lead to changes 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.
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, recognising and managing stress can help. Using relaxation techniques such as meditation, muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, Tai Chi, yoga, exercise or therapeutic massage are some ways to reduce stress. There are also many apps that can help with managing stress. Choose what works for you.
EEG Neurofeedback – evolving from biofeedback, this is a therapeutic intervention that provides immediate feedback from a computer-based program that assesses someone’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, some studies on humans have shown a significant reduction in seizures.
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. It is currently not available in Australia.
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 can have a beneficial effect.
*Essential oils to avoid include Rosemary, Hyssop, sweet fennel and sage.
Acupuncture – 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. Always use a qualified therapist and let them know 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.
Locating a qualified naturopath: Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association on (03) 9811 9990 or www.anpa.asn.au , or Australian Natural Therapists Association on 1800 817 577 or www.anta.com.au