Natural Treatments for Epilepsy

Written by Kristeen Cherney | Published on July 10, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on July 10, 2014

Why Go Natural?

Epilepsy is traditionally treated with anti-seizure medications. But these medications don’t work for everyone, and they come with a risk of side effects.

From herbs and vitamins to biofeedback and acupuncture, there are a lot of choices available. But there is far less evidence backing up natural treatments for epilepsy compared with conventional medicine.

Some alternative therapies might complement your current treatment plan, but you should always ask a doctor first.

Inside Herbal Treatments

With an increasing market and public interest, herbal treatments have soared in popularity. It seems there is an herb for virtually every ailment. NYU Langone Medical Center estimates that 20 percent of people taking prescription drugs also use herbs. 

Some of the most commonly used herbs for epilepsy are:

  • burning bush
  • groundsel
  • hydrocotyle
  • lily of the valley
  • mistletoe
  • mugwort
  • peony
  • scullcap
  • tree of heaven
  • valerian

Such herbs have the potential to reduce seizures, but there’s no scientific proof that they work. The FDA doesn’t regulate the safety and efficacy of supplements. Herbs sometimes cause unpleasant side effects such as headaches, rashes, and digestive problems.

While some herbs might help epilepsy, others should be avoided. These include:

  • gingko and St. John’s wort (may interact with anti-seizure medications)
  • kava, passionflower, and valerian (may increase sedation)
  • garlic (can possibly increase medication levels)
  • chamomile (may prolong medication effects)

Vitamins May Complement Treatment

Along with a healthy diet, certain vitamins can help decrease seizures in epilepsy. Keep in mind that vitamins alone don’t work. You should also follow your doctor’s instructions to prevent a possible overdose.

The most frequently used vitamins for epilepsy are:

  • folic acid
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E

Self-Control and Biofeedback

Some people with epilepsy try to control their brain activity to reduce the frequency of seizures. The theory is that if you can detect symptoms of an impending seizure, then you may be able to stop it.

According to NYU Langone Medical Center, some patients experience symptoms 20 minutes before a seizure. Others might feel symptoms for several days leading up to the event, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • bad headaches

Self-control methods are used to prevent or decrease the intensity of the seizure once it arrives. There are varying techniques, all which require good concentration and focus. Examples of such methods are:

  • meditation
  • walking
  • immersing in a task
  • sniffing a strong odor
  • literally telling the seizure “no”

Oftentimes, these methods are too good to be true. The problem is there is no single technique to stop a seizure, and there is no guarantee it will work every time.

Another method involves biofeedback. Like self-control measures, the purpose of the process is to take control of your brain activity. Biofeedback utilizes electrical sensors to alter brain waves.

Physical therapists commonly use biofeedback. If you’re interested in this procedure, seek a professional — don’t fall for a biofeedback practitioner without credentials.

Other Alternative Treatments

Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments are sometimes considered other alternatives to conventional medicine. The exact way acupuncture helps is not understood, but the ancient Chinese practice is used to help chronic pain and other medical issues. By placing fine needles in specific parts of the body, practitioners help the body heal itself.

Acupuncture may change brain activities to reduce seizures. While the practice sounds good in theory, there is no scientific evidence to prove acupuncture as an effective epilepsy treatment.

Spinal manipulations in chiropractic care may also help the body heal itself. Some chiropractors use specific manipulations to help patients control seizures on a regular basis. But like acupuncture, chiropractic care isn’t widely viewed as an effective form of epilepsy treatment.

Certain dietary changes may also decrease seizures. The best-known diet is the ketogenic diet, which focuses on eating a higher ratio of fats. It’s considered a low-carb, low-protein diet. This sort of eating pattern is thought to help decrease seizures, although doctors don’t know exactly why.

Children generally use the ketogenic diet, and many people find the restrictions challenging. Still, this type of diet might complement other treatment measures to help reduce seizures.

The Bottom Line

Your neurologist is your best source of epilepsy information and care. The brain is a complex network. Each case is different, and seizures vary in severity and frequency. Not one single treatment or alternative remedy will work for everyone.

Many patients try varying treatment methods until they find one that works best for them. Natural treatments may complement existing medical treatment. In some cases, alternative therapies might even improve your treatment.

Despite their potential, natural treatments still pose risks. This is especially the case with herbs and vitamins, as they can interact with medications. Some “natural” supplements can even be as powerful as conventional drugs.

You shouldn’t discount natural treatments for epilepsy. But treat them as separate options for epilepsy care. Take note of which methods interest you and discuss them with your doctor.

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