Can changing what I eat improve control of my seizures?

Foods can alter brain function, but reliable information on specific recommendations is scarce. We do know that very low levels of sugar in the blood can cause seizures in some people, especially people with diabetes who take too much insulin. If you have epilepsy, therefore, it is reasonable to try to eat regularly and eat a balanced diet. There is no proof, however, that mild dips in blood sugar levels that are commonly labeled as "hypoglycemia" have any relationship to seizures or epilepsy.

Can vitamins, herbs, or amino acids help to treat seizures?

Research studies have been unable to confirm the reports of people who have appeared to respond to these substances. Isolated reports of a few cases can be misleading. We shouldn't ignore promising therapies, but people with epilepsy would be wise not to embrace a treatment until there is some solid proof that it works. Most nutritional supplements are, in effect, medications. Probably most of them have no real effect on seizure control, but they can have side effects and some may be dangerous.

Do vitamin deficiencies cause or worsen seizures?

The only vitamin deficiency known to cause or worsen seizures is a deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). This deficiency occurs mainly in newborns and infants and causes seizures that are hard to control. In some cases, the doctor may give the baby the vitamin through an IV while recording the EEG. If the EEG improves dramatically, that shows that there is a B6 deficiency. Some doctors may also try vitamin B6 in older children with difficult-to-control seizures, but there is no solid evidence that it will be helpful.

Can low levels of minerals in the body affect seizure activity?

Minerals are essential nutrients. Low levels of the minerals sodium, calcium, and magnesium can alter the electrical activity of brain cells and cause seizures.

What factors cause low levels of minerals in the body?

Mineral deficiency is rare unless there is severe general malnutrition, but the following factors may affect mineral levels in the body:

  • Low sodium levels may be caused by medications such as diuretics (water pills) or carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol, Trileptal), by excessive water intake, or by hormonal disorders.
  • Low calcium levels most often result from kidney disease or hormonal disorders. They also may be linked to low magnesium levels.
  • Low magnesium levels can be the result of chronic abuse of alcohol and poor nutrition. Low magnesium levels can lead to seizures and also can cause low calcium levels.

 

Should I take extra minerals?

Persons with epilepsy very seldom need to take extra sodium, calcium, or magnesium for seizure control. If your doctor finds that you have low levels in your body and no underlying disorder is identified, it may be reasonable to change your diet or take a mineral supplement. Taking extra doses of certain minerals can help to prevent side effects that may follow the long-term use of some seizure medicines. Check the specific information about the medicines you take to see if this applies to you.

 

 

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 12/2006
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