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Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 13, 2021

Some people with epilepsy turn to complementary therapies like acupuncture, vitamins, and supplements, and stress-relief techniques to help manage seizures. There isn't a lot of research to show whether many of these treatments work. If you're thinking of trying one, always check with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you. And use them only as an add-on to your regular epilepsy treatment -- not as a replacement for it.

Acupuncture

In this traditional Chinese therapy, a practitioner places thin needles into your skin at various points around your body. Though acupuncture is helpful for problems like arthritis pain and headaches, it doesn't seem to improve epilepsy. One review of studies found acupuncture doesn't reduce the number of seizures people get.

Acupuncture is safe when it's done correctly. If you do try this treatment, make sure the practitioner is licensed in your state and has experience treating a person with epilepsy.

Vitamins

A few vitamin supplements have been studied for epilepsy. Vitamins are necessary for good health, but large doses don’t help the symptoms of epilepsy and may even be harmful. You should get most of your vitamins from food by eating a balanced diet. If necessary, vitamin supplements such as folic acid can help deal with vitamin loss caused by medication.

People with epilepsy taking some seizure medications seem to have a higher need for calcium and vitamin D to help keep their bones healthy. Pregnant women also need sufficient folic acid to help prevent birth defects. Check with your doctor before taking vitamins or supplements.

Studies have found no reliable evidence to support the routine use of vitamins in patients with epilepsy. More studies are needed, especially to find out the role that vitamin E plays in seizures and how thiamine may help improve mental skills like thinking and remembering.

Talk to your doctor before you take any vitamin, and only use the recommended amount. Certain vitamins can be dangerous in large doses.

Herbal Remedies

Some people take herbal supplements like mugwort, valerian, or burning bush to treat epilepsy. Yet the few studies that have been done haven't proved that any herbal remedy prevents seizures.

If you want to try a supplement, check with your doctor first. Some herbal remedies can make your seizures worse. Others can affect your epilepsy medicines and cause side effects.

Ketogenic Diet

Normally, your body uses carbs for energy. The ketogenic diet is high in fat and has no carbs, so it forces your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. Ketones are substances your body makes when it breaks down fat for energy.

The ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy for nearly 100 years. Studies show it helps prevent seizures in children whose epilepsy isn't well-controlled with medicine. This diet might also help adults with epilepsy, but more research is needed. The main side effect is stomach upset.

Stress Relief

You may find that a tough day at work or problems at home set off your seizures. Doctors still don't know the exact link between stress and epilepsy, but relieving stress can help you feel better overall.

Try these techniques:

Exercise. A walk, swim, or game of tennis increases the amount your body makes of mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Exercise can also calm the abnormal electrical brain activity that triggers seizures.

Let your doctor know before you start any new exercise program. Avoid activities that could be dangerous if you have a seizure -- like scuba diving or skiing. And wear a medical alert bracelet, just in case you do have a seizure while you work out.

Yoga. It combines exercise with deep breathing and meditation to strengthen your body and calm your mind. Some studies show yoga could help cut the number of seizures you get and improve your overall well-being. But more research is needed before it can be recommended to treat seizures.

Meditation. In this relaxation technique, you breathe deeply, sometimes while repeating a word or phrase. Meditation helps steer your mind away from thoughts that stress you out. One form in particular, mindfulness meditation, may help relieve stress. Because stress can be a trigger for seizures, it could help reduce them. But more research is needed.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a method of using relaxation or imagery to change body functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

A biofeedback practitioner measures these functions with electrodes and a monitor. The practitioner describes a stressful situation and then teaches you relaxation techniques.

You can see on the monitor the differences between stressed and relaxed situations. You can then use the relaxation techniques to feel more relaxed and control these body functions.

Biofeedback has been shown to help people with high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and pain. Researchers have investigated whether biofeedback can help control seizures, but the results have not been encouraging. However, people who have problems with anxiety or dealing with stressful situations may benefit from this therapy, in addition to their seizure medications.

Music

Back in the 1990s, researchers discovered that children with epilepsy had less abnormal brain activity and fewer seizures when they listened to music. Only a certain type of music worked, though -- a Mozart sonata called K448. Researchers call this phenomenon "The Mozart Effect."

Be careful about the type of music you listen to. Some people find that certain musical styles, like jazz or pop, can trigger their seizures.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that is made by your brain’s pineal gland. It’s been touted as an anti-aging substance, as a sleep aid, and as an antioxidant (a substance that protects against free radicals -- molecules that can damage the body). Studies into these claims have not been conclusive.

As for epilepsy, one study showed that melatonin may reduce seizures in children. Another study found that melatonin raised the risk of seizures. At this time, it is believed that melatonin does not significantly help prevent seizures.

Cannabidiol

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is the nonpsychoactive part of a marijuana plant and contains little, if any, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the component that can get you high. The two react differently with your brain receptors. CBD oil has proven beneficial in some medical treatments, including seizures, especially those which are considered severe.

The FDA has approved a synthetic form of CBD oil called Epidiolex for treating two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. It’s not approved specifically for treating epilepsy in general, but some people who take it as a part of their epilepsy medication regimens have reported fewer side effects with their other seizure medications and improvement in quality of life.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

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