Complementary Medicine

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While they are sometimes referred to as “alternative therapies,” it is very important to remember that these therapies are not an alternative to anti-epileptic medication. They are best used as a complement to any existing drug treatment, with the approval of a physician. Complementary therapies do not work for everyone. In some cases however, these therapies improve seizure control.

There is some scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the following treatments, but success is usually variable and limited. These therapies may give people with epilepsy a sense of control over their bodies and lives and improve a their sense of well-being.

People who suffer from drug-resistant epilepsy require emotional and social support in addition to medical therapy. It is important to treat the whole person, not just the seizures. An interdisciplinary team including doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists and social workers are essential for people who would like a comprehensive approach to their treatment.

Why complementary treatment?

There are several reasons why a person with epilepsy may consider complementary treatment including the following:

  • Dissatisfaction with the methods and approaches of conventional medicine
    • Unpleasant side effects or risks associated with conventional drugs/treatment
    • No relief from symptoms using conventional medicine
  • Desire to supplement conventional treatment
  • Others’ success stories (word of mouth)
  • Desire for improved overall well-being
  • Cultural beliefs

While anti-epileptic medication is still the most successful treatment for epilepsy (with a 70 to 80 per cent success rate), there is a growing interest in the use of complementary therapies. Research in this area is currently limited, as studies continue.

Finding a Complementary Therapist

Always inform the complementary therapist about your disorder BEFORE receiving any treatment.

It is important to realize there are many complementary therapists who are unwilling to treat people with epilepsy. This is often the case because there is little research on the safety and effectiveness of these treatments when applied to epilepsy or a seizure disorder. Some therapists may be afraid to treat people with epilepsy because they don’t understand the disorder, or they have a fear of possible legal consequences should a problem arise. However, there are also many therapists who are willing to treat people with epilepsy. You will have to do your own personal investigation when trying to locate a knowledgeable alternative therapist.

Checklist for Finding a Complementary Therapist

  • Is the practitioner willing to treat someone with epilepsy?
  • Is the practitioner knowledgeable with regard to epilepsy and the effectiveness of their treatment in people with epilepsy?
  • Is the practitioner willing to consider the other medical attention you are receiving (anti-epileptic drugs, neurologist) and incorporate it with his/her alternative therapy?
  • Has the practitioner treated people with epilepsy previously?
  • Is the practitioner willing to find out more about your condition, if further research is necessary on their part?
  • Is the practitioner knowledgeable about how side effects of his/her treatment may affect your seizures or interact with the drugs you are taking?
  • Is the practitioner located close enough to you so that you will be willing to go as often as necessary?
  • Does the practitioner know how to administer first aid to you if you have a seizure while receiving treatment? Treatment administered on a couch or floor instead of on an examination type table may be necessary when a patient suffers from frequent seizures.

Complementary Treatment Options

Acupressure and Shiatsu

Acupressure is a traditional Chinese therapy (termed “shiatsu” in Japan). According to principles of Oriental medicine, the body’s vital energy (ch’i or qi in Chinese and ki in Japanese) flows along 14 meridians connected to vital organs. If there is a block in the flow of energy, ch’i is believed to cause disease and discomfort in the associated organs and tissue.

Both acupressure and shiatsu work with the same healing points used in acupuncture. Instead of needles, practitioners use their elbows, feet, thumbs, and fingertips. The specific pressure points they target are located along the body’s energy channels or meridians. Acupressure treatment takes place on a mat or massage table. A typical session lasts from 30 minutes to one hour.

There are no indications that acupressure provides a beneficial effect in the treatment of epilepsy. However, the treatment appears effective as a relaxation technique, relieving some of the triggers of seizures (e.g. stress) or the effects of epilepsy (e.g. depression).

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years, but was first introduced to the West as a therapy to treat epilepsy in 1972. Echoing the principles of acupressure, acupuncture practitioners believe the life force (ch’i or qi) flows through the body along 14 invisible channels (meridians), each associated with organs of the body. Stimulating these points is said to balance or restore the flow of life force.

Practitioners insert stainless steel needles into the body at various acupuncture sites. The depth of the insertion depends upon the area being treated. The needles may be left in place for up to 30 minutes, stimulated by hand or by an electrically operated needle holder. While the exact scientific mechanism behind this procedure is unknown, it has been suggested that acupuncture may trigger the release of natural pain-killing substances (endorphins) within the body or alter the body’s output of neurotransmitters.

It is important to find a qualified and reputable practitioner. Improper procedures can cause side effects such as bleeding or damage to organs, nerves, and tissues. Some acupuncturists use traditional Chinese medicine, including herbal remedies in their treatment. You should notify your doctor of the treatment because the herbs may contain chemicals that can alter the effectiveness of anti-seizure drugs. Keep in mind that researchers have been unable to prove that acupuncture provides a beneficial effect in the treatment of epilepsy, though it may be effective in reducing stress and anxiety.

For more information, visit the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute website.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been used since the beginning of civilization to treat a number of conditions. Aromatherapy involves the use of pure aromatic oils extracted from plants. The oils have distinct properties, which act on the body and the brain. The essential oils are believed to possess the plant’s “life force,” essential to the plant’s biological processes, as well as being the substances which give them their scent. Synthetic oils, which may be chemically similar, lack all the natural elements contained in natural oils including the vital “life force.” Therefore, synthetic oils are not considered to be accepted for aromatherapy.

How does it work?

There are many different ways to use essential oils including inhalation, diffusion, massage, bathing, hot and cold compresses, and perfumes. Some aromatherapists claim that, through massage, the oils can penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream, causing physiological effects on the body. Scientific evidence, however, has not confirmed that these substances are able to enter the blood at levels of therapeutic value.

The majority of doctors believe that the effect of aromatherapy is due to a person’s emotional response to the various scents and not due to actual physiological changes in the body. The use of certain essential oils, however, has been associated with:

  • reduced stress
  • enhanced relaxation
  • decreased anxiety
  • improved well being
  • relief of psychosomatic symptoms
  • alleviation of some emotionally-related disorders

Aromatherapy and Epilepsy

Aromatherapy may have the ability to prevent seizures in some people with epilepsy. Dr. Tim Betts at the University of Birmingham in England performed a study in which people with refractory epilepsy practised self-hypnosis to promote relaxation while receiving an aromatherapy massage. Later, the people were told to inhale a whiff of a particular scent whenever they felt that a seizure was coming on. It was found that almost all participants became became totally seizure free. This may have been due to the development of a conditioned response in which the smell of their oil helped the people attain a state of relaxation similar to that experienced during their massage.

Aromatherapy can help people who experience auras and warn of an upcoming seizure. Use of essential oils may help to prevent or lessen the severity of a seizure if the person inhales before the seizure occurs. It is important to note that people with epilepsy should not sniff aromatherapy oils vigorously. Vigorous sniffing, whether or not an oil is present, can itself trigger a seizure in some people. Instead, the person should gently inhale the scent.

Because some scents may trigger seizures, it is important to seek out a qualified aromatherapist who is knowledgeable regarding which oils to avoid when treating children with epilepsy.

The following oils may prevent seizures:

  • Jasmine – Jasminum officinale (consistently found to have anticonvulsant properties)
  • Camomile – Chamaemelum nobile
  • Lavender – Lavendula spp.
  • Ylang-Ylang – Cananga odorata

The following oils should be avoided since they may trigger seizures:

  • Camphor – Cinnamomum cumphorata
  • Hyssop – Hyssopus officinalis
  • Fennel – Foenicum Vulgare
  • Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Sage – Salvia officinalis
  • Wormwood – Artemisia spp.
  • Cinnamon – Cinnamomum verum, C. aromaticum
  • Clove – Caryophyllus aromaticus
  • Nutmet – Myristica fragrans
  • Black pepper – Piper nigrum

Note: Aromatherapy treatments should only be sought from a qualified aromatherapists since some oils can trigger seizures and should therefore be avoided. Some oils (camphor oil in cold medications) can be found in common everyday products, including over-the-counter medical products. Be aware that they may trigger seizures, especially in children.

For more information, visit the Joyessence Aromatherapy Centre website.

Art Therapy

Art therapy can provide children with a safe and non-threatening environment in which they can express their feelings through the use of various forms of art. Through art, children can often approach difficult issues and convey their feelings more clearly and safely than with words.

The child is encouraged to empower him/herself through the exploration and interpretation of their own art. the art therapist may direct the child in their artwork or the child may be permitted to create their own work freely. The artwork produced can then be used as the basis of a discussion to provide the child with a better understanding of his/her feelings.

Art therapy can be used to help children express feelings that are too difficult to talk about, build self-esteem and confidence, and make verbal communication more accessible. Art therapy can also provide a means of self-expression for children who do not have the verbal ability to communicate their feelings.

For more information, visit the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) and Ontario Art Therapy Association (OATA) website.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a type of behavioural therapy that may be helpful for people who experience partial seizures or secondarily generalized seizures that begin with some kind of waring aura. This technique teaches people to control their own brain waves, and thus in theory control their seizures.

People with epilepsy have been found to have a decrease in 12 to 14 Hz (high frequency) brain rhythms. The goal of this technique is to try and raise an individual’s seizure threshold by increasing the activity of high frequency brain wave activity and suppressing the low frequency rhythms.

How does it work?

The procedure begins by attaching electrodes to the body with a special gel or paste. An EEG (electroencephalogram) gauges brain wave activity. Physiological information such as heart rate, skin temperature (indicating the flow of blood) and muscle tautness are also recorded. Initially, an individual’s brain waves must be mapped and analyzed to find any deviations from the norm.

Then, with the aid of a biofeedback practitioner, the patient concentrates on altering their brain wave activity. A biofeedback session may consist of the patient playing some kind of computer game while their brain waves are continuously monitored. Each time the patient’s brain waves find their way into the optimal state set by the practitioner, the patient is rewarded with positive feedback (the patient may get extra points or win the game). After anywhere from five to 50 sessions, the brain seems able to find the optimal state on its own.

Over time, some people can learn mental techniques to regulate electrical activity in the brain and stop the seizure from spreading. It has been found that atonic (akinetic) and myoclonic seizures are the easiest to treat with sensory rhythm training. Reduction in seizure activity are reported in 50 per cent of patients with intractable seizures (seizures resistant to medication). In addition, the technique may increase a person’s self-esteem by giving them a sense of control over their epilepsy.

Results

Success is unpredictable, and may be linked to positive attitudes. The reduction of stress in everyday life has been one of the most beneficial aspects of biofeedback, and a decrease in stress also plays an important role in the reduction of seizures. Biofeedback has also helped people become aware of auras, which may precede their seizures. This may allow people to abort seizures before they occur.

There are, however, a few drawbacks associated with this treatment. This therapy is less widely used than before, as it requires a lot of input from the therapist and much motivation and concentration on the part of the patient to achieve results. It is also only thought to be helpful in people over the age of 14. As well, the treatment is very expensive. Training from a qualified biofeedback practitioner is essential to teach one how to maintain a particular state of brain activity.

For more information, visit the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe site.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic treatment works to eliminate pain by locating and correcting subluxations (spinal misalignments), which cause interference to the proper functioning of the nervous system. Subluxations are problem areas of the spine that affect the entire nervous system. In these problem areas of the spine that affect the entire nervous system. This can irritate or put pressure on local nerves, which may interfere with the communication between your brain and body. Subluxations can be caused by the stresses and strains of everyday living (e.g. housework, gardening, desk work, lifting, sleeping, falls, accidents, sports activities, injuries). Chiropractic adjustments work to relieve pain by removing the interference on the sensory nerve fibres.

Although information from large group clinical trials is lacking, several single case studies have shown chiropractic adjustment helps to decrease the frequency, severity and duration of seizures in some people.

The chiropractor does not treat epilepsy or the seizures directly, but rather corrects the spinal nerve stress (vertebral subluxations). Without spinal nerve stress, the body functions better. It has been suggested that when a vertebral subluxation occurs, there will be a pathophysiological change in the nerve, muscle, ligaments, vascular and connective tissue. This causes aberrant nerve impulses from groups of nerve cells resulting in a seizure. Chiropractic adjustment reduces the aberrant nerve impulses, which lead to a decrease or cessation of the seizure activity.

Chiropractic literature has shown that there is a correlation between the removal of the vertebral subluxations and the reduction and/or cessation of some seizure disorders. Spinal damage has been related to many neurological conditions and physical trauma is noted as one of the causes of epilepsy that is seen in all age groups. It is thought that trauma may produce a lesion in the brain stem or upper spinal cord, which may in turn cause seizures to originate in the spine and its immediate connections.

Although information from a large group of clinical trials is lacking, several single case studies have shown that chiropractic adjustment helps to decrease the frequency of a patient’s seizures, as well as decrease the severity and duration of seizures. Chiropractic care has also been found to lead to the disappearance of seizures. Careful investigation into each case may reveal possible avenues that may eventually help the patient reduce or, in some cases, entirely eliminate the need for drug therapy.

Before receiving any chiropractic treatment, be sure to discuss it with your physician. Also, be sure to discuss your condition with your chiropractor. There are potential dangers associated with chiropractic treatment, including the risk of stroke and arterial damage. Some chiropractors will not treat people with epilepsy, so finding a chiropractor may be difficult.

Chiropractic treatment is not recommended for children because of potential damage to the growing spine. Before your child receives any chiropractic treatment, discuss it with your child’s physician and pediatric neurologist.

For more information, visit the Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA) and Canadian Chiropractic Association (CCA) websites.

CranioSacral Therapy

William Sutherland, an osteopath, developed CranioSacral therapy in 1939. Researchers later confirmed his claims that the cranial bones could move, and the central nervous system and its associated structures were in constant rhythmic motion.

CranioSacral therapy requires a light, hands-on technique to manipulate the connective tissues of the body, as well as the membranes and fluid which surround the brain and spinal cord. CranioSacral therapy practitioners believe releasing restrictions in these structures can alleviate a variety of neurological and motor disabilities, including seizures.

So far, there are no studies documenting its efficacy. For more information, visit the Upledger Institute.

Enzyme Therapy

Enzymes are one of the most important factors associated with our health and longevity. They influence every biochemical process in the metabolism of our bodies. All life processes consist of a complex process of chemical reactions referred to as metabolism. Enzymes are the catalysts that enable these chemical reactions to occur.

Enzyme therapists believe a compound of spinach and sunflower seeds contains a wealth of enzymes. This powerful mixture is thought to restore energy production, enhance detoxification and normalize personality. Government-sponsored studies as of yet have failed to detect significant enzyme activity in the preparations. Enzyme therapy is strongly promoted in epilepsy, no clear positive results have been established. Nonetheless, the method is popular today.

Click here to learn more about enzyme therapy.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine uses plant remedies - using seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers - to fight disease. The approach is holistic, aiming to identify the underlying cause of a problem and treat this, rather than treating the symptoms alone. The plant extracts used have a combination of active constiuents, which restore the natureal balance of the body and encourage healing. They are available in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants.

Since the turn of the 21st century, pharmaceutical companies have shown more interest in investigating herbs as potential drugs. Herbal medicine, however, is not generally used to treat epilepsy. It is recommended that a person taking conventional anti-epileptic medication does not try herbal medication for antoher condition without consulting a herbal practitioner and speaking to their own doctor. This also applies to over-the-counter herbal remedies, especially Chinese herbal medicines.

Herbs that people with epilepsy should avoid:

People with epilepsy should not take the following herbs internally:

  • Schizandra – commonly used in Chinese herbal medicine, known also as wu wei zi or “five flavour fruit”
  • Kava Kava – the roots of this plant are often used as a sedative throughout Polynesian cultures
  • Comfrey – extracts are usually used as a topical skin treatment, but rarely ingested as it can cause liver toxicity

There are different views concerning the safety of St. John’s Wort while taking anti-epileptic medication. This plant is commonly used as a treatment for depression. Consult a physician before taking St. John’s Wort, if you are already taking it, and if you want to stop taking it. Always notify your health care professional when stopping St. John’s Wort. You may require a different dose of anti-epileptic medication to prevent side effects.

Ayurverda, an Indian medicine that contains a combination of herbs, may aggravate epilepsy. Notify your physician if you are taking it. Treat this herbal medicine with caution.

Herbs that cause seizures:

  • ephedra – used in traditional Chinese medicines for 5,000 years (known as ma huang) to treat asthma, hay fever and colds
  • herbs containing caffeine (i.e. cocoa, cola nut, maté, guarana)
  • ginseng – dried root is often used as an aphrodisia or stimulant, and to treat type II diabetes and sexual dysfunction in men
  • essential oils (i.e. eucalyptus, fennel, hyssop, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, savin, tansy, thuja, turpentine, wormwood)

Well-known herbs studied in the treatment of epilepsy

Cannabis Sativa (Marijuana)

Cannabis Sativa (also called marijuana or pot) has been used as:

  • analgesic-hypnotic
  • tropical anesthetic
  • anti-asthmatic
  • antibiotic
  • anti-epileptic
  • anti-spasmodic
  • anti-depressant
  • tranquilizer
  • appetite stimulant

Its principle uses are easing pain, inducing sleep and soothing nervous disorders. The effects of marijuana are almost entirely on the higher nerve centres. It can produce intoxication with hallucinations when taken in large doses. Associated side effects include:

  • enhanced sensory perception
  • withdrawal
  • fearfulness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • panic
  • terror
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia (particularly with larger doses)
  • impaired coordination and balance
  • rapid heartbeat
  • respiratory system damage
  • red eyes
  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness


Dual effects

Marijuana contains many chemicals.  These chemicals include CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD and THC have different properties.  CBD is not “psychoactive,” which means it does not cause the “high” associated with marijuana use (THC causes that high). Strains of marijuana very low in THC and very high in CBD can only be identified by specialized laboratory tests, so you can’t know how much CBD or THC is in any particular marijuana plant, breed, or strain.

Some people with epilepsy think that smoking marijuana improves their seizure control.  There is some research indicating that the CBD found in marijuana could prevent seizures, but THC can cause seizures. Sativex®, a prescription medication used to treat multiple sclerosis, contains THC and CBD.  Sativex® is “contraindicated” for epilepsy because it contains THC. Currently, CBD alone is not available.

CBD is showing promising results for a few persons with epilepsy, but studies are needed to determine if high CBD, low THC marijuana extract can prevent seizures.  Studies are also needed to find the best way to isolate and purify CBD, what safe dosages are, long-term side effects, and potential interactions with other medications.

For more information:

Please note: The possession and cultivation of marijuana for purposes other than medicinal use is illegal in all Canadian jurisdictions with a maximum prison sentence of seven years for each offence.

Chinaberry Juice

This herb (also called Azadiratchta indica or Melia azadirachta) has been studied in animals for its anti-convulsant properties. Results suggest it may contain an ingredient that has long-lasting anti-epilpetic power.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba remedies are commonly used for health problems ranging from depression and memory loss to headaches and dizziness. Although there is no concrete evidence that proves ginkgo biloba causes seizures, researchers have issued warning suggesting it may increase the risk of seizures.

A chemical compound in the herb, called ginkgotoxin, may alter the body’s chemical-signalling pathway linked to epileptic seizures and can potentially interfere wiht the effectiveness of anti-seizure medications. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States has approved ginkgo remedies. Nonetheless, people who have epilepsy and would like to take ginkgo biloba should be aware of the potential increased risk of seizures.

Qingyang Shen

Chinese cultures have used qingyang shen for at least 2,000 years to help control seizures. It has anti-epileptic properties and research has shown that it helps decrease seizures in rats.

Nine Herb Extract

The Japanese have used a nine herb extract (shosaiko-to-go-keishi-ka-shakuyaku-to) to help decrease seizures. Researchers have found the same result when tested in mice.

Herbs under further study

There are several herbs that are under further study including:

  • acorus calamus (China and India) – used as a sedative, laxative, diuretic, or carminative
  • Galphimia glauca Cav. (Mexico) – used as a nerve tranquilizer
  • Mareya spicata (Ghana) – used as a laxative, anesthesia, or abortifacient

Many other herbs have been employed in the past to try to control epilepsy; however, many are EXTREMELY toxic and cannot be recommend under any circumstances.

For more information:

Homeopathy

The term “homeopathy” comes the Greek words, “homeo” meaning similar and “pathos” meaning suffering. Homeopathy is a branch of medicine that sees symptoms as the body’s attempts to overcome illness. Dr. Samuel C. Hahnemann (1755-1843) developed this branch of treatment.

A homeopathic practitioner uses extremely small doses of substances in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing forces and restores health. Homeopathy is a holistic therapy, meaning it is concerned with the whole person. Remedies are chosen according to the patient’s individual reaction to illness.

Homeopathic doctors work in the same way as their conventional colleagues. Medical/family history, examinations and investigations are all important in establishing the diagnosis to understand what is wrong. Homeopathic doctors, however, consider a wider range of aspects of the person’s condition, including:

  • personality traits
  • physical features
  • the effects of a variety of environmental influences
  • patterns of disease within families
  • family and social relationships

Homeopathy integrates well conventional medicine. It may be used alongside conventional drug treatment and in consultation with a qualified homeopathic practitioner.

For more information:

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT)

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) is a treatment sometimes used to promote wound healing. The patient sits in a small room for 60 to 90 minutes and breathes pure oxygen at a higher than normal pressure. This procedure often requires a long series of treatments. HBOT has been tried in the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning, radiation tissue damage, stroke, migraine, and cerebral palsy. Although it has not been clinically tried for the treatment of epilepsy, some families in the Toronto area have tried it at their own expense.

HBOT promotes healing, but there is no evidence that it helps epilepsy. If peopleinsist on using HBOT, practitioners warn that it may trigger seizures and lead to higher doses of anti-epileptic medication. The risk of seizures occurring due to treatment is estimated at one in 5000. HBOT is available without prescription in the United States and in Vancouver. In Ontario, however, OHIP does not cover it for use in epilepsy. It has been suggested that people with epilepsy avoid this type of treatment.

For more information:

Magnetic Stimulation

Recent research has indicated that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) may help decrease the number or severity of seizures in patients who suffer from refractory epilepsy. The technique applies a low frequency magnetic stimulation against the patient’s head. Effects of the treatment wear off in six to eight weeks. Further investigation is still required.

For more information on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), click here.

Music Therapy

The use of music therapy to treat children with epilepsy is a very new approach. Music therapy is used to bring about positive changes in the emotional and/or physical health of the individual. Music can be used to promote movement, relaxation, self-expression, creativity, interaction, self-awareness, learning, communication and personal development. These skills may help children gain important social skills, decrease their feelings of isolation, increase their self-esteem and gain control over their lives.

While there is no scientific evidence that music therapy can decrease the occurrence of seizures, there is proof that leading a more active and productive life can. Look for an accredited music therapist with the title Music Therapist Accredited (MTA).

For more information, visit the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) and Music Therapy Association of Ontario (MTAO) websites.

Reflexology

Reflexology is based on the principle that the anatomy of the body is reflected in miniature reflex zones on the head, ears, hands and feet. It can involve the feet, head, ears or hands, although the foot is the most common type of reflexology treatment. The treatment applies pressure over the foot to initiate healing in the body. It can promote relaxation and reduce stress. Both feet receive treatment during a full session, as the body is seen to be a whole unit.

Origins

Ancient pictographs portray Egyptians massaging their feet, while old texts and illustrations show Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cultures working on their feet to combat illness. The current theory of linking various parts of the foot with specific part of the body was developed in the early 1900s by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, who called the system “zone therapy.”

In the 1930s, Eunice Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist who used zone therapy, refined the system. She identified sensitive areas she called “reflex points,” and created a map of the body as represented on the feet.

How does it work?

In a typical session, the reflexologists will begin by gently massaging your feet. Then, s/he will begin applying pressure to the reflex points thought to correspond to your health problems. The reflexologists will treat one foot first, then the other. No instruments are required, but some practitioners use devices such as rubber balls to apply some of the pressure.

If you have foot problems, such as severe calluses or corns, the therapist may refer you to a podiatrist for treatment since reflexologists do not treat foot disorders. Sessions typically last from 30 to 60 minutes.

Effectiveness

Some reflexologists claim that manipulation of the feet reduces the amount of lactic acid in the tissues and releases tiny calcium crystals that accumulate in the nerve endings of the feet. This restores the free flow of energy from the feet to the corresponding organs. Others speculate that pressure on the reflex points may trigger the release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that naturally block pain.

Some practitioners claim that reflexology leads to a state of relaxation that opens the blood vessels and improves circulation. Still others credit a detoxifying effect, suggesting the manipulation dissolves crystals of uric acid that settle in the feet.

Although some people claim reflexology can help control seizures, there have been no major clinical trials to verify the effectiveness of reflexology. It is recommended, even by its advocates, that reflexology be used as an adjunct to conventional therapy. Proper treatment for a person with epilepsy requires a qualified reflexologist.

For more information:

Relaxation Techniques

Studies have found  that greater than 50 per cent of people experience declines in seizures frequency with the use of relaxation techniques such as:

  • massage therapy
  • yoga
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • deep breathing
  • meditation

While there is insufficient research on the effectiveness of these methods in controlling seizures in people with epilepsy, some individuals have found them helpful. There is, however, research showing the benefits of removing stress to control seizure intensity and frequency. (Stress is known to be a trigger of seizures.)

Although critics have warned that deep diaphragmatic breathing might inadvertently cause hyperventilation inducing seizures (especially absence seizures), the benefits of the relaxation response are likely to help control seizures.

Progressive Relaxation Therapy (PRT)

Progressive relaxation therapy requires little sophisticated equipment and is relatively inexpensive and requires little training. It is, however, more complicated than simple deep breathing or thinking “nice thoughts.” PRT teaches people how to relax the entire body slowly and step by step to achieve a state of relaxation that offers a powerful opposition to seizures.

Contingent relaxation is similar to PRT, but teaches people how to interrupt pre-seizure indications (aura or prodromal warning) to help prevent a seizure before it occurs. Some people have fewer and less severe seizures. Other benefits include:

  • sleeping better
  • feeling less tense
  • having a sense of well-being
  • feeling less afraid of impending procedures

Massage Therapy

Many people find massage therapy to be very beneficial. Massage therapy involves dozens of specialized massage techniques, but the most widespread variation comprises six basic strokes of Swedish massage:

  1. effleurage – sliding or gliding to warm up the muscle
  2. petrissage – deep tissue work including kneading, wringing, rolling and squeezing
  3. friction – cross-fibre compression to stretch or broaden muscle fibres
  4. tapotement – percussion or rhythmic tapping
  5. vibration – rapid side-to-side movement
  6. jostling – grasping a relaxed muscle at its fixed attachment point and gently shaking it back and forth

Massage involves the systemic manual application or pressure and movement to the soft tissue of the body (i.e. skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia). It is believed to encourage healing by promoting the flow of blood and lymph. The typical length of time for a full body massage is one hour.

Be sure to find a qualified massage therapist. There is no scientific evidence that massage therapy provides a beneficial effect in the treatment of epilepsy. It does, however, promote relaxation and helps decrease stress, a possible trigger of seizures. Consult your physician before trying any alternative therapy.

For more information:

Yoga

Yoga is not a cure itself for any medical ailment. Rather, it is an age-old set of exercises that helps promote health. Benefits of yoga include:

  • increased efficiency of the heart
  • slowing of the respiratory rate
  • improved fitness
  • lowered blood pressure
  • increased relaxation
  • reduced stress
  • decreased anxiety

Yoga exercises are usually conducted in group classes. A typical session includes three disciplines:

  1. breathing exercises
  2. body postures
  3. mediation

Yoga seeks to enhance the “life force” (Prana), which resides in the body, to achieve a state of balance and harmony between body and mind. This practice has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, both immediately following yoga exercise and over time. When practised regularly, it promotes relaxation and enhances the person’s sense of wellness.

Although there are no reports documenting the beneficial effects of yoga in the treatment of epilepsy, it does seem to help decrease stress (a possible trigger of seizures). Consult your physician before attempting any alternative therapy. To find out more about yoga classes, contact your local community or fitness centre.

For more information, visit the Yoga Centre Toronto website.

Stones, Bracelets and Amulets

The tradition of wearing amulets against demons is an old one. Stones and bracelets are recommended today because they are believed to produce vibrations that heal or protect. Each stone has its own vibration that should match with the target organ. Recommendations for epilepsy are not uniform, but emerald is the most popular.

Supplements

Anticonvulsant medication may affect the levels of vitamins B2, B6, B22, C, D, E, beta-carotene, biotin and folate. It has been suggested that some of these deficiencies may be involved in the development of certain behavioural disturbances. These deficiencies may also worsen some of the toxic effects of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). For example, a deficiency of B6 (pyridoxine), which may be diagnosed at birth, can cause a seizure disorder.

Pregnancy precautions

The need for replacement therapy remains controversial since some vitamins may reduce the efficacy of AEDs or may even cause seizures (e.g. folic acid replacement). Although there is the risk of increased seizures while taking folic acid supplements, women who are trying to conceive and those who are pregnant are encouraged to take folic acid replacements.

A deficiency in folic acid may lead to an increased chance of miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) or having a child with birth defects. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor when considering pregnancy.

Vitamin B23

Vitamin B23 (carnitine) is a protein found in all tissues and is essential for life. Plasma levels are usually low in people with epilepsy who are taking valporate with other AEDs (e.g. phenobarbital, phenytoin or carbamazepine). Carnitine is sometimes used in conjunction with AEDs or the ketogenic diet. It is found in high quantities of red meat and milk products. It is available in a pharmaceutical form (Carnitor). Adverse effects of taking carnitine supplements may include:

  • transient nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea
  • foul body odour (less frequent)
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (less frequent)

Minerals and Hormones

Decreased levels of calcium and magnesium can predispose a person with epilepsy to experiencing seizures. There is no evidence, however, that additional calcium or magnesium in the diet have any beneficial effect in the general management of epilepsy. Some have suggested that elevated zinc levels may play a role in the exacerbation of epileptic seizures, although further investigation is required.

Melatonin (a hormone) is a natural substance produced in the brain by the pineal gland. It is primarily used for jet lag, but recent animal studies have found it may show anticonvulsant effects. Further investigation is still required to determine its short- and long-term efficacy in humans. While it is sold at health food stores in the United States and elsewhere, it is not available in Canada.

Amino Acids

The amino acids taurine and tryptophan have been used as adjunctive treatments for various types of epilepsy. Taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid, which is not used in protein synthesis, but found free or in simple peptides. Clinically, taurine ahs been used with varying degrees of success in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, including:

  • cardiovascular diseases
  • hypercholesterolemia (too much cholesterol in the blood)
  • epilepsy and other seizure disorders

Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid. It is a natural relaxant with many benefits, such as:

  • helping to alleviate insomnia by inducing normal sleep
  • reducing anxiety and depression
  • helping in the treatment of migraine headaches
  • helping the immune system
  • helping reduce the risk of heart and artery spasms
  • helping reduce cholesterol levels

These effects, however, have not been well studied. Further investigation is necessary to determine their efficacy.

Therapeutic Touch

Therapeutic touch is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices. It is a consciously directed energy exchange. Practitioners use their hands as a focus for facilitating healing. Dolores Krieger, PhD and registered nurse, and Dora Kunz, a “natural healer” developed this modern variation of the “laying on of hands” in the early 1970s.

This technique is one of the most controversial alternative therapies. Practitioners claim they can heal by correcting the imbalances in the body’s external energy field. Critics say there is no evidence of an energy field. Any benefits, they say, are positive psychological responses.

Therapeutic touch rarely involves physical contact between the practitioner and the patient. Instead, the practitioner moves his/her hands just above the patient’s body to establish any blockages in the patient’s energy field. Then, the practitioner moves his/her hands in a flowing motion to relieve the blockage. This treatment is based on the principal of energy exchange between people. The treatment lasts from 10 to 30 minutes. It is often used as a supplement to traditional medical therapies.

Research and experience have shown its effectiveness in: promotion of relaxation and reduction of anxiety, changing the patient’s perception of pain, and facilitating the body’s natural restorative processes. The effectiveness of this technique in treating epilepsy has not been documented.

Choosing a practitioner

Exercise caution when seeking out a therapeutic touch practitioner, since there is no certification required to practise the technique in Ontario. Therapeutic touch is taught and practised all over the world, including numerous universities and colleges in Canada and the United States. It is accepted as a nursing intervention in an increasing number of hospitals in Ontario. You should choose a practitioner who has completed  a workshop in therapeutic touch and has practised the technique for at least one year under the guidance of a mentor.

Warnings (for Parents)

There are several things to keep in mind when deciding to seek out an alternative therapy or therapist to treat your child.

  • Never allow your child to stop taking his/her anti-epileptic medication suddenly. This can lead to dangerous prolonged seizures (status epilepticus- a life-threatening medical emergency that can lead to permanent brain damage or death). The physician should establish a safe schedule for the withdrawal of your child’s anti-epileptic medication.
    • Never attempt to alter the dosage of your child’s anti-epileptic medication on your own.
  • Any herb or complementary medication must be considered as a drug when used to treat epilepsy or any seizure disorder. This includes the ingestion, inhalation or topical application of various substances.
    • Herbs or complementary medications  may contain chemicals that can interfere with your child’s anti-epileptic medication. Threfore, you must consult your child’s physician and alternative therapist regarding these possible drug interactions.
    • The production of herbs and other “natural” complementary products is relatively unregulated in Canada. The quantity and quality of active ingredients in herbs may vary from one manufacturer to another and from one batch of product to another. This may result in different effects from various products.
  • Always discuss your child’s epilepsy with the complementary therapist before s/he receives any alternative treatment.
  • If you notice your child has any side effects following a complementary therapy, check with the complementary therapist and physician immediately.

Disclaimer


Under NO circumstances should any person with a seizure disorder change, augment or substitute any prescribed anti-epileptic medication for another registered drug or other (alternative, complementary or herbal) treatment without specific instructions to do so from their neurologist or attending physician.

While Epilepsy Ontario has made every effort to ensure this information is valid, exercise caution when deciding to pursue any treatment. We encourage you to conduct further research before making a decisions. Always consult your physician before trying any of these or any other complementary therapies.

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