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February 27, 2013, last updated January 30, 2015

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors and Registered Nurses and other members of our
Editorial Board.]







Epilepsy is a frightening and often misunderstood brain
disorder that causes seizures, convulsions, strange behavior
and sometimes loss of consciousness. Two million Americans
have epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, and there
are 150,000 new cases every year. The fact is, epilepsy cannot
be cured. But there are strategies to control epilepsy that help
you lead a normal life, for example through diet. Did you know
that certain foods help epilepsy sufferers control their
symptoms? But which diets work best and what foods should
you avoid if you have epilepsy?

What is Epilepsy?

In epilepsy the normal pattern of brain activity becomes
disturbed, according to the National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke, leading to seizures, changing behavior,
emotions and sensations, and muscle spasms or convulsions.

Epilepsy comes in many forms, from severe and life-
threatening to more benign and manageable. Just as there are
many different causes and forms, there are many different
types of seizure. And the stigma of epilepsy causes associated
problems, too, from children experiencing embarrassment and
bullying at school to adults facing restricted mobility and social
opportunities.

Epilepsy is an ancient disease, and many famous people
throughout history have suffered from this malady. Julius
Caesar, emperor of Rome, suffered from epilepsy during his
lifetime around 70 to 140 AD. He was described by many
contemporaries as having "the falling sickness".

What are the Causes of Epilepsy?

Epilepsy has many causes and possible triggers – anything that
disrupts the normal and delicate functioning of the neurons in
the brain can cause seizures. Unfortunately in most cases a
definite cause cannot be found.

Symptomatic epilepsy is where a known cause, such as a head
injury, drug abuse, birth problems, meningitis, tumor or stroke,
is the reason for epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is where no
cause can be found and cryptogenic epilepsy has no apparent
cause but is believed to be strongly linked to brain damage.
Genetics may play a part, but researchers still aren’t certain.

What is the Importance of Diet for Epilepsy Sufferers?

Many epilepsy sufferers soon find that certain substances or
situations trigger a seizure, and diet plays a big part in
controlling and minimizing these triggers. For example, certain
substances like alcohol can trigger seizures while others, like
fish oil, may help reduce the frequency of seizures. Epilepsy
drugs also produce deficiencies in certain nutrients and
increasing your intake of these nutrients through food can help
you manage your symptoms and feel better.

We looked at foods that help epilepsy sufferers reclaim their
lives, all of which are backed by scientific research.


























1.
Try the Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy

Ever heard of the ketogenic diet? The ketogenic diet is a low-
carbohydrate, high-fat diet that is carefully controlled to
prevent seizures in epilepsy sufferers.

The theory goes that we can store approximately 24-hours
worth of glucose for the energy our bodies need to run on.
When the supply is used up the body begins to burn stored fat.
The diet begins with a 24-hour fast to kick-start the process
then continues by keeping carbohydrate/sugar levels low and
fat levels high so the body is forced to burn fat around the
clock.

No one really knows why tricking the body into starvation-
mode helps prevent seizures but several studies say it works.

For example, a 1998 study from The Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions, Baltimore says the ketogenic diet is effective in
substantially decreasing difficult-to-manage seizures and a
2000 study from the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh showed
that 71 percent of patients had a reduction of 50 percent or
more in seizure activity with more than half of these people
experiencing a
90 percent reduction in seizures after 45 days
on the diet.

That's a remarkable reduction in seizure activity.

How do you go on a ketogenic diet?  Not by yourself.  The diet
needs to be carefully administrated by a doctor to patients due
to a risk of serious health consequences if not done correctly.
Children are more commonly prescribed the diet than adults as
they tend to be more receptive to the changes.

Moreover, when it comes to children, a 2014 study from
doctors at Ste-Justine University Hospital Center, University of
Montreal,  has suggested keeping children with epilepsy for
longer than 15 months on the ketogenic diet may stunt their
growth.

2.
Avoid Alcohol to Control Epileptic Seizures

Heavy drinking is one definite trigger people with epilepsy need
to avoid, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Large amounts of alcohol can cause seizures and may also
interact badly with anti-epileptic drugs, making them less
effective. Alcohol disrupts sleep, which is another seizure
trigger.

How much is too much alcohol? Drink no more than the
recommended limits of three to four units a day for men and
two to three units a day for women.

3.
Take Folate to Make Up for a Deficiency in Epilepsy

Levels of folate or folic acid, a B vitamin, are often significantly
reduced by the drugs used for controlling seizures, according
to studies such as 1997 research from National Kure Hospital,
Hiroshima, Japan. If you are taking anti-convulsant drugs you
should have your folate levels monitored by your doctor and
possibly take folate supplementation.

Foods high in folate include beef liver, dark leafy greens such
as spinach, lentils, oranges and other citrus fruits, kidney
beans, broccoli and avocado.

4.  
Missing Biotin Affects Epilepsy Sufferers

Biotin, sometimes called Vitamin H, is one of the lesser-known
B vitamins that’s essential for metabolism and the synthesis of
fat.

As is the case with folate, anti-convulsant drugs reduce levels
of biotin in the body, as demonstrated by studies such as 1989
research at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine,
Nashville.

Biotin deficiency is not the most drastic of deficiencies but it
always helps make sure you get enough of essential vitamins.
Eat lots of eggs (with yolks) leafy green vegetables, chard (a
vegetable similar to beets), carrots and almonds.  

5.
Black Cumin Seeds Help Control Epilepsy?

A 2007 study from the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences,
Iran demonstrated that the humble black cumin seed (Nigella
sativa) which is commonly used as a natural remedy in Iran,
helped control the frequency of seizures in children. Is this
seed worth a second glance? Further research would be
helpful.

6.
Calcium for Epilepsy

Anti-epilepsy drugs increase your risk of osteoporosis, a bone-
thinning disorder, as they can reduce the metabolism of
calcium in the body – evidence comes from research including  
a study by TO Wahl, AH Gobuty and BP Lukert in the journal
Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1981.

Increase the levels of calcium in your diet with dairy products,
spinach, soy beans, calcium-fortified foods and some fish,
especially those with edible bones such as sardines.

7.
A Chinese Natural Herbal Remedy Treats Epilepsy?

While supporting evidence is slight, it seems a combination of
ginger root, Asian ginseng root, bupleurum, cassia bark, jujube
fruit, peony root, Asian skullcap root, pinellia root and licorice
root may help treat epilepsy.

A 1993 study by Katsushikabashi Hospital, Tokyo, Japan
showed the Chinese herbal remedy reduced the frequency of
seizures in the 26 patients studied.

8.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D are Good for Epilepsy

To absorb calcium, you need vitamin D. Drugs for epilepsy
interfere with the activity of Vitamin D so make sure your diet
is rich in the nutrient. In particular, your body needs Vitamin
D3.

Your body makes its own vitamin D3 when you are exposed to
sunlight, so get a decent amount of (safe) sun each day.

The amount of Vitamin D3 which is produced when you are
exposed to sun depends on the color of your skin and where
you live. According to the Vitamin D Council, a fair-skinned
person only needs about 15 minutes of sun exposure a day. A
darker-skinned person may need up to 2 hours a day to get
the same amount of Vitamin D.

It is difficult to find vitamin D in food but fatty fish or fish oil
such as cod liver oil, vitamin D-fortified foods, liver, cheese and
egg yolks contain vitamin D.

9.
Eat Fish Oil as an Epilepsy Remedy

Some studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help
decrease the frequency of seizures in epilepsy sufferers. A
2005 study from the UCL Institute of Neurology, London, UK
demonstrated that the number of seizures decreased during six
weeks of study.

10.
Foods Rich in Vitamin K Benefit Epilepsy Sufferers

If you have epilepsy your vitamin K levels may suffer due to an
interaction with certain epilepsy drugs, according to studies
such as the 1993 study from University Hospital Nijmegen, The
Netherlands. The problem is especially pronounced during
pregnancy, at which time vitamin K is essential.

Foods rich in vitamin K include dark leafy green vegetables like
kale, spinach,  chard, spring onions/ scallions, Brussels
sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and prunes. (Read more about the
Top 10
health benefits of dark, leafy greens.)

[Meet the
Doctors and Registered Nurses on our Medical
Review team.]



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Eating plenty of fish high in omega 3 and dark green vegetables
can help control epileptic seizures.
salmon and green leafy vegetables