There are alternatives to medication (or surgery) for the treatment of epilepsy. Many of these can be used safely alongside conventional medications. Some may be useful in preventing a single seizure from developing into a recurring one.
* Acupuncture. Only small trials have been carried out and show benefits with this treatment. In one involving eight children, the use of the standard acupoints indicated for epilepsy, along with a selection of other points relevant to the individual patient and applied within 10 minutes of the seizure, was found to be effective (J Trad Chin Med, 1990; 10: 101-2). Other evidence, published on the Internet, also suggests that acupuncture may help in some cases (see www.medicalacupuncture.org/ aama_marf/journal/Vol11_2/poster.html).
* Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Anecdotally, this form of oxygen therapy, in which patients breathe pure oxygen in a chamber with a higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure, is reported to have had some good results in treating epilepsy, though good-quality research is lacking. It has been used successfully in other areas such as stroke rehabilitation and traumatic brain injury (Townsend Lett Docs, 1998; 181/182: 94-6).
* Nutrition. Common nutritional deficiencies associated with epilepsy include manganese, zinc and magnesium. It may be worth a full nutritional analysis to determine if you are suffering from these deficiencies. Other nutrients may also be helpful. Epileptics may be deficient in vitamin E and selenium - both can significantly lower seizure rates (Can J Neurol Sci, 1979; 6: 43-5). It is essential that anyone taking AEDs be aware that they can deplete important nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin D and calcium. Adequate supplementation with nutrients that are likely to be depleted should be considered.
* Try a ketogenic diet. A high-fat, low-protein and low-carbohydrate diet has a long history in the control of seizure activity (JAMA, 1928; 91: 73-8; Arch Neurol Psych, 1930; 23: 904-14). One of the benefits of such a diet is that it counterbalances the tendency of epileptics towards alkalinity whereas acidification is believed to help normalise nerve conductivity, irritability and membrane permeability.
* Environmental considerations. Go organic. Common pesticides such as dieldrin, lindane and the pyrethroids interfere with the electrical activity of the brain and promote convulsions in susceptible individuals by binding with benzodiazepine receptors. Similarly, toxic metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and aluminium can induce seizures by disrupting nerve function (Int Clin Nutr Rev, 1983; 3: 3-9).
* Homoeopathy. A number of homoeopathic remedies available address many forms of epileptic attack. Consult a specialist homoeopath for an all-embracing remedy that will treat you constitutionally.
* Biofeedback. Small-scale studies suggest that EEG biofeedback can help 'train' the brain to be less sensitive to changes in brainwave patterns. In some places in the US, this is already a standard therapy for traumatic brain injury. In one study of difficult-to-treat epileptics, around 82 per cent experienced a 30 per cent or more reduction in seizures (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatr, 1983; 46: 227-33). Although it may not work for everyone, unlike many epilepsy treatments, EEG biofeedback has no negative side-effects (Clin Electroencephalogr, 2000; 31: 5-7).
In addition, you can help lower your risk of seizures by paying attention to triggers (see box, bottom of p 2) and following the advice below.
* Identify allergies. Many nutritionists believe that food allergies are at the root on many otherwise unexplainable types of epilepsy, and there are studies to bear this out (Clin Electroencephalogr, 1981; 12: 1928). Get a full diagnostic check-up for food allergies, then remove them from your diet.
* Treat the causes of sleep deprivation. Epilepsy patients have much more fragmented sleep than normal controls. Sleep apnoea (transient episodes when the sleeper stops breathing) is common among patients with difficult-to-treat epilepsy and there is good evidence suggesting that treating sleep apnoea may reduce seizures (Neurology, 1997; 48: 1389-94).
* Daily cycles. Researchers have found that seizure incidence peaks for both animals and humans in the late afternoon and that significantly more seizures occurred during light than during dark (Ann Neurol, 1998; 43: 748-55). Organising your routine to reduce other trigger factors at this time may be helpful.
* Monthly cycles. Most healthcare professionals are not aware of menstrual-associated seizure patterns and the specific effects of oestrogen and progesterone on seizure threshold. By keeping a diary of seizure activity and your menstrual cycle, you can determine whether there is a link between hormonal balance and seizures. Wherever possible, seek out natural methods, such as Vitex agnus castus, to balance hormonal activity.