Non-Medical Treatments for Epilepsy
Herbs, vitamins and minerals, acupuncture, and meditation are popular non-medical treatments. However, when it comes to epilepsy and anti-seizure drugs, it is best to proceed with caution.
Anti-seizure drugs are notoriously sensitive to other substances you may take. Other prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements can increase or decrease the amount of anti-seizure medicine in the blood and, in turn, the brain. This can lead to more seizures or side effects.1
Few non-medical options for seizures have been tested in scientific studies the way prescription drugs have. Research into using herbs and supplements to treat seizures is rare.1
One exception is a large Arizona survey. It asked 3,100 people with epilepsy, their families, and doctors what kind of non-medical treatments they had tried. Nearly half said they had tried some herbal remedy. It may have been used for seizure control or for a health condition other than epilepsy. Stress reduction, yoga, and herbs were the most popular things tried. Even though half reported having more seizures, they felt their non-medical treatments worked well.1
Stress is one of the most common seizure triggers. So it makes sense that stress relievers are one of the most common treatments people try. There are many techniques to relieve stress, including:2,3
- Meditation or prayer
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Art therapy or hobbies
The good thing about stress relievers is that these can be free or low-cost and easy to adapt to your interests. These techniques are also unlikely to interfere with anti-seizure drugs. They sometimes can reduce side effects like brain fog or fatigue.2
Herbs, vitamins, and minerals
Many people reach for supplements to treat the side effects of their anti-seizure drugs and other ailments. In the United States, the most common herbs people try are:4,5
- American hellebore
- Blue cohosh
The danger is that many herbs change how anti-seizure drugs work in the body. This may lead to more seizures or more severe seizures.4,5
There is 1 exception: Women taking anti-seizure drugs who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should take folic acid. Your doctor will be able to tell you the right amount to take.5
Another issue with supplements is that these substances are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means no agency confirms the ingredients. For example, a melatonin supplement may have more or less melatonin than listed on the label. A supplement may also contain ingredients that are not labeled correctly or at all.
This can be dangerous, especially when supplements are mixed with anti-seizure drugs. It can lead to taking too much or taking unwanted ingredients.
The FDA created good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to help this situation. GMPs are guidelines for companies to follow when making supplements. The FDA rarely inspects facilities making supplements in the United States. Companies outside the United States do not have these inspections.
In short, many more supplements are sold than are tested. Your doctor can help you decide if a supplement is safe.
There are several other non-medical options that people with epilepsy may explore, including:6
- Chinese medicine
Things to know about non-medical treatments for epilepsy
Studies show that less than half of people with epilepsy tell their doctor about the non-medical products they are using. Interestingly, this is consistent in studies around the world.1,4,7
For your own safety, always talk to your doctor about all of the non-prescribed treatments you are using. This can help you avoid interactions between your anti-seizure drugs and other substances you are taking.7