I worked as a writer in the health and wellness field for more than 10 years. So I know a thing or two about this stuff. But I also know from personal experience that epilepsy is a very unique condition. Between all the different types of seizures, and triggers, and meds…there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The same goes for diet. What works for one might definitely not work for another. And it certainly doesn’t take the place of meds. However, I do believe that although living a healthy lifestyle won’t cure you…it can certainly help you.
So, here’s some information for sensible eating and supplementing your diet. Bear in mind, it is not a substitute for your meds. (Factoid: herbs are considered a chemical and can affect the way anti-epileptic drugs work. So, DON’T reduce or stop taking your meds. Because that could lead to big-time seizures. Before you take supplements, ask your doc.)
Obviously, 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 seizure medications seem to have more of a need for calcium and vitamin D to help keep healthy bones.
However, the all-star vitamin seems to be Vitamin B-6. This vitamin is involved in critical functions of the nervous system. And it boosts the metabolism of various neurotransmitters which are needed for normal brain function. The good news is that it’s easy to get it in all kinds of different foods…fresh juicy fruits like apples, oranges, grapefruits, grapes, (especially grape juice), pineapples, peaches, pears and lemons…green leafy vegetables, carrots, peanuts, rice, milk, cereals, seeds, nuts and grain.
Vitamin B3 (or Niacin) — Improves circulation and is helpful for many brain-related disorders. It enhances the treatment of epilepsy when used with anticonvulsants. Some foods rich in niacin are fish, lean meats, nuts, and poultry.
Vitamin B6 — A necessary cofactor in the metabolism of a variety of neurotransmitters. It’s needed for normal brain function. Protein rich foods such as chicken, fish, beans, and nuts are good sources. Other foods rich in Vitamin B6 include brewer’s yeast, milk, rice, green leafy vegetables, peanuts, carrots and cereals.
Vitamin B12 — Needed for proper digestion, the formation of cells, and the production of myelin, the protective coating surrounding the nerves. Vitamin B12 helps prevent nerve damage and levels may be reduced by some anticonvulsant drugs. Foods rich in Vitamin B12 include liver (best source), beef, chicken, pork/ham, fish, whole eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt.
Vitamin B5 (Panothenic acid) – Is the anti-stress vitamin. Good sources of vitamin B5 include broccoli, turnip greens and sunflower seeds., crimini mushrooms, corn, winter squash and strawberries.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid) – Is necessary for the health of the nervous system. Foods that contain a significant amount of folic acid include liver, lentils, rice germ, brewer’s yeast, soy flour, black-eyed peas, navy beans, kidney beans, peanuts, spinach, turnip greens, lima beans, whole wheat, and asparagus. (NOTE: Folic acid may be depleted during seizures and in some people with seizures. However, taking extra folic acid can reduce the effectiveness of anticonvulsant drugs and lead to more seizures. Take folic acid only under your doctor’s supervision.)
Vitamin C — Vital to functioning of the adrenal glands, which are the anti-stress glands. It’s more than just citrus fruits that provide Vitamin C. You’ll also find it in broccoli, tomatoes, red, orange and yellow peppers (more than green), baked potatoes, papaya, mango and kiwi.
Vitamin D – Low vitamin D levels are associated with depression as well as epilepsy. However many doctors aren’t aware of this and don’t include it in blood tests. It’s called the “sun vitamin” since the most effective way (other than supplements) to get vitamin D is from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Food sources of vitamin D unfortunately rely upon fortified foods like milk. However, even though milk is fortified with vitamin D, dairy products made from milk such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are generally not. Only a few foods naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D, including fatty fish and fish oils.
Vitamin E — The Canadian Journal of Neurological Science published a study showing that vitamin E deficiency produces seizures. This powerful antioxidant protects the body from damage by free radicals and aids circulation. Foods rich in vitamin E include — almonds, canola oil and broccoli, vegetable oils, cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and wheat germ oil.
Calcium – When balanced with magnesium, it helps prevents bone loss. However, you should know that calcium can interfere with anticonvulsant drugs and should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision. Calcium rich foods include cheese, yogurt, milk, sardines, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens, fortified cereals such as Total, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes (they have a lot of calcium in one serving), fortified orange juice and enriched breads, grains, and waffles.
Magnesium – (Needed to balance with calcium.) This mineral, when aligned correctly with calcium, achieves equilibrium for us all. There are a variety of foods which are rich in magnesium such as nuts and seeds; including almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. Leafy greens like spinach, kale and swiss chard, plus black beans, sea kelp, basil, bananas, and halibut.
Manganese — Plays a significant role in cerebral function. Manganese (5 mg per day) levels are often low in people with epilepsy. Whole grains, leafy greens and legumes are your best suppliers of manganese, along with nuts, and teas.
Selenium – Found to significantly reduce seizures. Brazil nuts are the single most selenium rich food in the world. In selenium rich soil areas of the world, selenium is found in meat (kidney, liver, poultry meat especially), garlic, onions, broccoli, eggs, mushroom, walnuts, sunflower seeds and wheat. Selenium is also found in seafood like tuna, crab and especially lobster!
Zinc — Needed for bone growth and is often deficient in those with epilepsy. Zinc is found in meat, eggs, seafood (especially oysters) and from non-animal sources like whole-grain cereals, wheat germ, nuts, and legumes.
You’re probably well aware of these, but here’s a gentle reminder…
Alcohol – People who drink too much have three times the normal risk of developing epilepsy, a risk similar to that of people who’ve had head injuries or central nervous system infections. When used frequently or in large amounts, alcohol may interfere with the anticonvulsant medication and may lower seizure threshold.
Caffeine — Observations suggest that caffeine (cocoa, coffee, tea, cola,) can exacerbate seizures in people with epilepsy, especially when combined.
Aspartame — We have known for many years that aspartame lowers the seizure threshold. To combine an anticonvulsive with aspartame makes seizures more likely. Studies have confirmed that aspartame triggers both seizures and epilepsy. The FDA list of reactions to aspartame included grand mal seizures, seizures and convulsions, petit mal seizures, now called absence seizures, simple partial seizures & complex partial seizures.