About Epilepsy

According to the Epilepsy Society, epilepsy affects at least 300,000 people in the UK - 60,000 of these people are children under the age of 16. Epilepsy affects 1 in every 100 children.
It is the most common serious neurological condition in the world and can affect anyone at any time in their life - it has no respect for age, sex, race or social class.
Seizures tend to develop in childhood or by late adolescence, but the likelihood of developing epilepsy rises again after the age of 65.
One in twenty people will have a single seizure sometime in their life.

Vitamins and Minerals in relation to Epilepsy
> Epilepsy: Facts
> Types of epilepsy
> Treatment
> First aid for seizures
> Medication & side
effects

> Vitamins & minerals
> The Ketogenic Diet
> Modified Atkins Diet
> Epilepsy related links

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Vitamins & Minerals

Listen to your body, it has the wisdom to know what is good for it.

Please remember to check out all supplements with your health practitioner first as some vitamins and minerals can interfere with absorption of anticonvulsant medication. If you suspect a deficiency in your child in any of the areas below, you may wish to request a blood test to confirm your suspicions or otherwise. Some common causes of epilepsy may be allergies, celiac disease and nutritional deficiencies. Below are a list of vitamins, minerals and additives that may play an important part in the control of seizures.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

The diagnosis of pyridoxine dependency should be suspected in every infant with convulsions in the first eighteen months of life. Certain clinical features may be indicative, including:

  • Seizures of unknown origin in a previously normal infant without an abnormal gestational or perinatal history.
  • A history of severe convulsive disorders, in both the family and the individual.
  • The occurrence of long-lasting focal or unilateral seizures, often with partial preservation of consciousness.
  • Irritability, restlessness, crying and vomiting preceding the actual seizure.*

If large amounts of B6 alone are given, the need for other B vitamins, particularly vitamin B2 and pantothenic acid, is so increased that harm can be done unless they too are supplied.

*Morello, Gaetano. (1996) "Treating Epilepsy Effectively," American Journal of Natural Medicine (October), 14-20.

Calcium

Calcium is a very important mineral for the normal functioning of brain cells, and low levels of calcium can cause seizures. A deficiency of magnesium, a mineral that interacts with calcium, may cause low blood calcium and therefore seizures.*

*Ibid., 151a

Carnitine

Carnitine is not an amino acid in the strictest sense; it's actually related to the B vitamins. But because it has a chemical structure similar to that of amino acids, it is usually grouped with them. It helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria, part of the cell that contains enzymes responsible for the conversion of food into usable energy.

Carnitine deficiency is not uncommon in patients with epilepsy. Research has found carnitine levels to be lowest in patients taking sodium valproate (epilim), but levels may be low in those taking other anticonvulsants, too. This can be a cause of concern because more than one hundred people have died from valproate-induced hepatic (liver) failure.*

About 90% of total body carnitine is in muscle tissue, much higher than in the blood, so a normal blood carnitine level reading may be misleading. Symptoms of carnitine deficiency include listlessness, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), heart failure, and muscle weakness. People low in carnitine benefit from supplementation. Many nutritionalists believe that acetyl-carnitine has better brain penetration than L-carnitine and also enhances brain levels of acetylcholine.

*Konig, S., et al. (1994) "Severe Hepatoxity During Valproate Therapy: An Update and Report of Eight New Fatalities," Epilepsia (35) 1005-1015.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important both in its own right and as helping the absorption of calcium. Anticonvulsant drugs interfere with vitamin D and calcium metabolism in some manner not well understood.*

Vitamin D is found in most oily fish and some animal products, especially in cheese and fortified milks. It is important to expose your child to sunlight (about half an hour daily) as it is an excellent source of vitamin D. In one study, supplementing the diet of twenty-three people with epilepsy with vitamin D resulted in a significant decrease in the number of seizures, indicating a possible theraputic effect.**

*Flodin, N. W. (1988) Pharmacology of Micronutrients. New York: Alan R. Liss.
** Christiansen, C. (1974) "Anticonvulsant Action of Vitamin D," British Medical Journal (ii), 2589.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is important for oxygen flow round the body. In a double-blind trial, twenty-four children with epilepsy received vitamin E or a placebo. There was a significant reduction in the number of seizures in ten out of the twelve patients given vitamin E, compared to none of the twelve given a placebo.*

This study suggests that adjunctive treatment with vitamin E can be of value for people with difficult to treat epilepsy. At Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, a study conducted on children found that shortly after specific food allergies had been identified and the allergen(s) removed, migraine headaches and epilepsy disappeared in 78% out of 88% children.**

The exact mechanism is unknown, but vitamin E is non-toxic and should perhaps be considered for those whose epilepsy cannot be controlled by conventional treatment. Such therapy might also allow reduction in doses of anticonvulsant medications.

*Ogunmekan, A., and P. A. Hwang. (1989) "A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of D-alpha-tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) as Add-On Therapy, for Epilepsy in Children," Epilepsia (30) 84-89. 
**Marshall, Fiona (1999) Epilepsy: The Natural Way. Boston: Element Books, 78.

Folic Acid

Folic acid deficiency appears to play a role in seizure activity, but there is conflicting information. While some anticonvulsants can deplete your body in folic acid, please be aware that folic acid supplementation may cause and increase seizure activity. You must ensure that you discuss any concerns you have on folic acid deficiency with a qualified health practitioner.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency can result in lowered immunity, improper muscle function, and impaired digestion. Without adequate magnesium, your nerves can become ragged and ultra sensitive to pain and production of new protein is impaired. Magnesium requires adequate amounts of vitamin B6 in order to be absorbed by the tissues. (Testing the blood for magnesium levels is not an accurate way to determine tissue and brain levels of magnesium). People with epilepsy have been shown to have significantly lower serum magnesium levels as compared to the general population, with seizure activity correlating with the level of hypomagnesemia. Magnesium has been shown, in uncontrolled trial studies, to be of benefit in the control of seizures. Carl Pfeiffer, M.D., found that a magnesium deficiency induces muscle tremors and convulsive seizures; he reported success in controlling the seizure activity of thirty patients with epilepsy using magnesium.*

30 children with epilepsy experiencing tonic-clonic or absence seizures were given 450mg of magnesium daily, and their anticonvulsant medications were discontinued. 29 reportedly showed significant improvements in seizure control. One 13 year old child who had a ten year history of uncontrollable seizures had shown signs of retardation. After receiving magnesium, his seizures stopped and his mental capacity improved.**

*Pfeiffer, Carl. Mental and Elemental Nutrients. New Canaan, CT: Keats, 278, 402-408.
*Barnet, L. B. (1959) Journal of Clinical Physiology (I), 25.

Selenium

Since selenium and vitamin E function synergistically, both must be taken to correct a deficiency in either. Because studies have shown that people with epilepsy have low levels of selenium, supplementation with selenium and vitamin E results in fewer seizures. Selenium is an excellent antioxidant. One study found that patients with epilepsy had significantly lower selenium levels than any other group except those with cancer.*

* Smith, Op. Cit.

Taurine

This is an amino acid that helps inhibit neuronal activity and some people with epilepsy are found to be deficient in this. Dr. Atkins also says some patients have discontinued seizure medication while using taurine.*

*Atkins, Robert C. (1998) Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answers to Drugs. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in blood sugar balance, protein synthesis, brain function, and the immune system, as well as other aspects of health. Children with epilepsy have been found to have significantly lower levels of serum zinc, especially those with West or Lennox-Gastault syndrome. More important, it appears that people with epilepsy may have elevated copper-to-zinc ratio. Seizures may be triggered when zinc levels fall, as in the absence of adequate taurine.* Although the exact role of zinc, or the copper-to-zinc ratio, is not clearly understood, it appears that anticonvulsants may cause zinc deficiency, either by reducing zinc absorption in the intestines or by causing diarrhoea. Therefore, zinc supplementation may be warranted.

* Barbeau, A., and J. Donaldson. (1974) "Zinc, Taurine, and Epilepsy," Archives of Neurology (30) 52-58.

The following two categories are not vitamins or minerals but we have decided to include them in this section as we felt they fell under the area of nutrition, of sorts!

Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, found in enormous amounts of sugar free products. Please be aware that Aspartame can trigger seizures in some children, due to the fact that it excites the brain cells. Each time I gave Daisy something with this product in she would seize within half an hour of eating/drinking it. So just be aware and please be very careful. Even people who don't have seizure disorders have had seizures after eating foods containing aspartame. More than six hundred commercial airline pilots have reported symptoms, including some reports of tonic-clonic seizures in the cockpit, after eating food containing aspartame.*

*Gold, Mark. (1995) "The Bitter Truth About Artificial Sweeteners," Nexus (December-January), 71-75.

Monosodium Glutamate

There's a class of chemicals used as food additives that neuroscientists have dubbed excitotoxins, so named because they over stimulate neurons in the brain. This poses a distinct danger, especially to people with epilepsy. The most common excitotoxins are glutamate, found in monosodium glutamate (MSG), and aspartate, found in aspartame products. When the amount of glutamate and aspartate rises above certain levels, too many neurons get excited and fire. Without inhibitory transmitters to balance their firing, they fire and fire until they are damaged or die. This is especially worrisome because a child's developing brain is four times more sensitive to excitoxins than an adult brain.*

*Olney, J. W. (1988) "Excitoxic Food Additives: Functional Teratological Aspects, " Progressive Brain Research (18), 283-294.

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