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Epilepsy Health Center

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Epilepsy, Alternative Medicine May Not Mix

Some Products May Be Risky When Taken With Epilepsy Treatments
WebMD Health News

Dec. 6, 2004 -- Many people with epilepsy use complementary and alternative medical products, but some of those items may conflict with traditional epilepsy treatments.

Such products can include vitamin/mineral supplements as well as herbal and natural products. They're available over the counter and are widely used for a variety of health concerns.

However, those products aren't necessarily proven remedies and may have unwanted side effects. To be on the safe side, patients are encouraged to tell their doctors about any products they're taking.

But that doesn't always happen, as a recent survey of 187 people with epilepsy (or their caregivers) showed. The survey was conducted by Marie Plunkett and colleagues from the University of California at San Francisco. They reported their findings in New Orleans at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting.

More than half (56%) reported using some sort of complementary or alternative medical product. But only 68% of those patients had let their doctors know about it.

They would probably be surprised to learn that some complementary and alternative medicine products might cause an increase in seizures or affect the metabolism of seizure medication. "Over one quarter of these persons used products containing ingredients with the potential to either increase the occurrence of seizures or alter hepatic drug clearance [liver metabolism]," say the researchers.

Almost 14% of complementary and alternative users took products containing ingredients that had the potential to increase seizure occurrence. Those ingredients include ephedra, ginseng, evening primrose, and ginkgo, the researchers report.

In addition, almost a fifth of complementary and alternative medicine users took products that could interfere with the metabolism of their epilepsy medication. St. John's wort, echinacea, and garlic might affect liver enzymes that influence the body's response to medicine, say the researchers.

Vitamin/mineral supplements were the most popular products, with 83 users in the survey group. Those products weren't flagged by the researchers for possible epilepsy interactions.

Most people said they took complementary and alternative products to improve general health, supplement their diet, or follow their doctor's recommendations. Only six patients said they used complementary and alternative medicine specifically to improve their epilepsy or to counteract side effects from their epilepsy medications.

No life-threatening events due to complementary and alternative medicine were reported in the survey. Patients using those products weren't more likely to have frequent seizures or negative side effects from their antiepileptic drugs.

Still, there is reason for caution, say the researchers. They call for more studies to weigh the risks and benefits of complementary and alternative medicine for people with epilepsy.

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