Epileptic Seizures – How Nutrition Can Help

For people suffering from epilepsy, a balanced whole-food, mostly plant-based diet, whereby eating a variety of foods from mostly plant food groups, is vital as this diet helps the body function at its best. It also helps reduce the frequency of seizures. Food choices and nutrient content of foods is also crucial for more control over the frequency of seizures.

In this article, I will examine the foods, additives, herbs, and supplements that increase epileptic seizures so that you can avoid them. I will also list the best foods and supplements for reducing seizures so you can increase these in your lifestyle. I will also mention foods and supplements that react with specific epileptic drugs so that you know if you need to be careful with these or not. And I will mention drug interactions to help you recognize if you need to supplement or not depending on the drugs you take and their effects on nutrient status.

How does food affect epilepsy?

Firstly, a healthy diet helps to reduce epileptic seizures by helping you keep steady blood sugar levels and energy levels. It also enables you to maintain a regular sleep schedule, which is of major importance for seizure reduction. A healthy diet also helps you to stay active, which is good for general health as well as seizure reduction. Hydration is also critical since drinking water supports brain function and reduces the possibility of seizures triggered by dehydration.

Lifestyle Pro Epileptic Contributors

Although every person with epilepsy is different, there are some common triggers for seizures. These include stress (the precursors for stress are different for everyone), lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, weather changes, dehydration (especially with drugs that also affect hydration levels), and flashing lights. 

But there are also less common compounds that have been shown to be pro epileptic.

Pro Epileptic Additives, Herbs and Supplements

There is also some evidence that certain additives, herbs, and supplements may contribute to epileptic seizures, and may even cause seizures in people who have never suffered from them before. 

Examples of these ingredients include anything with preservatives, colorings, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners

Here is a list of 14 additives, herbs, and supplements you want to reconsider if you have epilepsy:

  1. Molybdenum – Seizures of all types were common after taking a cumulative dose of about 13 mg of molybdenum over two weeks as a supplement. Therefore, any multi-nutrient supplements should be checked for the compounds they include before taken by you if you have epilepsy.
  2. Guarana extract – Seizures were verified after taking guarana extract, mostly found in weight loss products. 
  3. Aspartame is another dietary supplement associated with seizures when used in doses of over 34 mg/kg body weight or for people with phenylketonuria. 
  4. Ephedra (Ma Huang), causes blood vessel constriction and is also commonly found in weight-loss products. It is referred to as “fen-phen,” or “Indian tea.” Ephedrine-containing products also are marketed as decongestants, bronchodilators, and stimulants. 
  5. Yohimbe
  6. Kava Kava
  7. Black cohosh root
  8. Bearberry
  9. Ginkgo biloba 
  10. Ginseng
  11. Evening primrose oil
  12. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  13. Caffeine from tea, coffee, and energy drinks, has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system. Caffeine can increase the probability of seizures and also affect anti-epileptic medications.
  14. Stimulants such as excess of salt, sugar, spices, and animal proteins can trigger seizures because they suddenly change the body’s metabolism. 

Foods for Reducing Seizures

For most people, a diverse and healthy diet can provide all the vitamins and minerals needed, and taking supplements is unnecessary. But not in the case of epilepsy. There are certain food groups that can reduce seizure frequency.

  1. Foods that release energy slowly – Many seizures take place when blood sugar is low. Allergic reactions to foods containing white flour can also trigger seizures in children. Eating foods that release energy slowly and steadily will not only help you feel full for longer but will also help control seizures. Hypoglycemia, low blood sugar levels, is often the triggering factor in people who develop seizures in the late morning or late afternoon or when a meal is missed. Therefore, meals should not be skipped and steady energy, releasing foods should be consumed daily. Steady energy-releasing foods include all foods rich in fiber like wholegrains, peas, seeded bread, brown rice, oats, nuts, beans and pulses, sweet potatoes, and new potatoes. These also include non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, greens, onions, apples, pears, tomatoes, and berries. Berries are especially recommended due to their high antioxidant content.
  2. Foods rich in antioxidants – Numerous studies have reported that after a seizure, many free radicals are produced, too much for the capability of the antioxidants that are found in the body such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), to cope. These free radicals lead to degradation of proteins, fats, and even the DNA leading to much havoc in many cellular functions and membrane structure. This leads to much deterioration following an epileptic seizure. Therefore antioxidant agents that are found in the body must be supported.  The antioxidant enzyme SOD requires sufficient levels of copper and zinc to function properly. Other antioxidant enzymes in the body require selenium for the normal function of the anti-oxidative system. These nutrients are also essential for the normal function of neurons. Therefore, you must consume daily legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, spirulina, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.
  3. Vitamin C is also recommended for reducing seizures. Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin not made in the human body. So you need to get it from foods such as citrus fruits (orange and grapefruit), kiwi, berries, cantaloupe, and certain vegetables (broccoli, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, and red and green peppers). Not only is vitamin C an antioxidant, it is also a co-factor in the enzymatic conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine, regulating neurotransmission. Furthermore, people with epilepsy have shown to have reduced levels of serum vitamin C, so it is important to get enough of the foods rich in vitamin C daily.

Supplements for Reducing Seizures

  1. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fatty acids that cannot be made in sufficient quantities in the body. Therefore they must be taken in from the diet or supplements. The healthiest cleanest sources are nuts and seeds including flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, and walnuts. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have been shown to suppress seizures at dosages of less than 4 g per day. These fatty acids also have anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.
  2. Vitamin D – Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in different forms, including vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). Once vitamin D is produced or taken in from food, the liver converts it to 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The kidney then makes the active form, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, calcitriol. Vitamin D has many critical roles in many body processes. In the brain, vitamin D is a neuroactive steroid, in the central nervous system vitamin D regulates neurotransmitters, neuronal differentiation, axonal growth, voltage-sensitive calcium channels, neurotrophic factors, as well as free radicals, which all affect proper brain function. Studies show that people with epilepsy regularly have vitamin D deficiency in their blood, providing a rationale for taking vitamin D when you suffer from epilepsy. Furthermore, some anti-epileptic medications lead to disturbances in calcium and vitamin D metabolism. Therefore, I recommend taking 2000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 on days when you get no exposure to the sun’s UVB rays, such as during wintertime.
  3. Vitamin E was shown to reduce seizure frequency by approximately 60% for epileptic people taking daily supplements of 400 IU of vitamin E for three months. After a seizure, vitamin E supplementation can also offer neuroprotective effects against free radical damage. Vitamin E also has an anti-inflammatory function. Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, there is the possibility of taking too much in supplement form. If you are not interested in taking vitamin E through supplements because of the possible toxicity, you may wish to increase vitamin E rich foods in your diet such as nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables including spinach and broccoli.
  4. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of the central nervous system. Dietary vitamin B6 is present in vegetables (carrots, onion, and tomato), and fruits (berry, apple, watermelon, and banana). The vitamin is transferred to the liver after absorption. It must go through different processes to form the active form of vitamin B6 that can cross the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, this form of vitamin B6 helps produce the neurotransmitters GABA, glycine, dopamine, serotonin, and histamine. Since B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, toxicity is almost impossible. I recommend taking a B complex supplement of 50 mg 3 times a week because of the deficiencies of the other B vitamins that may be caused by the anti-epileptic medications.
  5. I also recommend taking pyruvate as a supplement -pyruvate is converted into acetyl coenzyme A when there are sufficient B vitamins. Pyruvate can also work as an antioxidant, and it helps suppress inflammation.
  6. Severe magnesium deficiency can provoke seizures. Magnesium blood levels were found to be low in people suffering from grand mal epilepsy. Magnesium levels fell with increasing span and recurrence of seizures. Supplementing with magnesium has been associated with a reduction in seizure frequency. I recommend supplementing with 400 mg of magnesium taurate 2-3 times a week.

Foods and Supplements With Epileptic Drug Reactions

Anti-epileptic drugs are grouped into two categories. 

The first category is the liver “enzyme-inducing anti-epileptic drugs,” which include the drugs carbamazepine, phenobarbital, and phenytoin. 

The second category is the “non-enzyme-inducing anti-epileptic drugs,” which include levetiracetam, valproate, topiramate, clobazam, clonazepam, ethosuximide, gabapentin, lacosamide, lamotrigine, pregabalin, tiagabine vigabatrin and zonisamide.

The drugs from the first category lead to risk for bone diseases like osteopenia, osteomalacia, rickets, and osteoporosis. These drugs disturb calcium balance and lower the level of calcium in the blood. So people taking medications from the first category should also supplement with 400 milligrams of calcium three times a week. You can also consume foods rich in calcium, including almonds, oranges, soybeans, and leafy green vegetables.

People taking drugs from the first category long term will also see deficiencies in the B vitamins. B12 deficiency is common and should be taken separately from the other B vitamins to ensure absorption. However, it is essential not to overdo it with B vitamins since taking high doses of folic acid may reduce blood levels of the anti-epileptic drugs phenytoin, phenobarbital, and carbamazepine. A dose of 50 mg, three times a week is adequate.

Grapefruit and Pomegranate juice, St. John’s wort, garlic, folic acid, and Echinacea do not trigger seizures. They can alter drug metabolism of diazepam, carbamazepine, and midazolam through inhibition of the cytochrome P450 system enzymes. The medications should not be taken with these six herbs and supplement products.

Besides these vitamins, doctors have found that treatment with taurine, and vitamin B1 (thiamine) can reduce seizures. This is why I recommend taking all of the B vitamins as a B complex and this is why I recommend taking magnesium as magnesium taurate which also has taurine in it.

To all who suffer from epilepsy I wish you fast and full healing! Amen

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