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Natural Treatment for Seizures?

My niece suffers with clonic seizure disorder. Recently she suffered two grand mal seizures back-to-back. She takes 1,500 mg of an anti-convulsant drug (Keppra) per day. What foods or supplements can she take to help her brain recover from the memory loss she suffers following the seizures?

Answer (Published 6/8/2009)

The term clonic seizure disorder (or tonic-clonic seizure disorder) indicates grand mal seizures, which involve the whole body. These seizures, usually due to epilepsy, are characterized by muscle rigidity, violent muscle contractions and loss of consciousness. The cause is abnormal electrical discharges in the brain.

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I discussed your question with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women's health. Dr. Low Dog said she would be concerned with how often your niece is having seizures while on medication and noted that epilepsy patients need to make sure they get adequate sleep, eat regularly, avoid alcohol and limit caffeine. Since many of the drugs given to prevent seizures can exacerbate nutritional deficiencies, Dr. Low Dog suggested that your niece (or her parents) discuss with her physician the use of a multiple vitamin that contains folate, vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin D.

She also said that omega-3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on the nervous system, citing one small study from England that suggests omega-3 supplements might help reduce the frequency of seizures. The study was published in the September, 2005, issue of Epilepsy Behavior.

In addition, some research indicates that bacopa leaf (Bacopamonnieri), an herb native to India, may be helpful. Bacopa leaf has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance memory, learning, and concentration, and as a treatment for epilepsy. Dr. Low Dog noted while that there has not been much investigation on this last application of bacopa, animal models of epilepsy show that it can protect the brain. One study found that it improved cognition without decreasing the anticonvulsant activity of the drug phenytoin (Dilantin), in animals. The dose for bacopa is generally 200-400 mg per day in two or three divided doses of an extract standardized to 20% bacosides, A & B. Dr. Low Dog said that to her knowledge there are no known interactions with any of the anticonvulsant medications used to treat epilepsy.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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