Archive for seizures / epilepsy
For those of you not familiar with the jargon, a refractory seizure is one that does not respond to medication.
Unfortunately, this is not a tiny fraction of epileptics. Rather, upwards of 1/3 of epileptics have seizures that do not respond to any medication that is used. The options that mainstream medicine have at this point are not pleasant. Vagal nerve stimulators embedded in your neck. Surgery to remove a part of your brain. Or, just deal with it.
The impact on the lives of these patients is severe. Restricted driving, inability to work and social isolation can be the result.
However, I have long felt that mainstream medicine’s approach to seizures is an inherently faulty one. In almost all cases, the initial, and sometimes only, goal is to use medication to control the seizure. If this doesn’t work, a different medication is used or they are used in combination. Statistically, if the first doesn’t work at controlling your seizures, the likelihood of being able to control your seizures with medication just goes down from there.
But there is rarely the thought to heal the brain and restore the way it is supposed to function. The medications do not do this (in some cases it is actually worsening brain cell function), rather, they are designed to keep one sick brain cell from communicating with its neighbor. Ramp up the suppression strong enough and hopefully you can stop the seizures. But you haven’t fixed the sick neuron that started the mess in the first place.
Which brings us to this particular article.
My book, Migraines and Epilepsy, How to Find Relief, Live Well and Protect Your Brian, has a strong focus on the mitochondrial aspect of both migraines and epilepsy. In a nutshell, when your brain cells cannot produce the energy they need to function optimally, things break down. Chronic migraine headaches and seizures can result. While it’s not that simple, this is the basic concept.
When you understand the mitochondria and the role it plays, you can better understand the factors that contribute to migraines and seizures as well as the natural remedies for seizures and migraines that improve brain cell function.
As mentioned by the author, treatments geared towards improving energy needs of the brain cells are “untapped.” This is probably an understatement, but you begin to see the point.
Overall, by NOT looking at natural remedies for seizures and migraines, researchers have might have missed out on therapies that are more effective and far safer than current medications. The difference is that this type of an approach to treatment works on healing the brain at it’s most fundamental level–the energy needs of the cell.
Only the most learned will view migraine headaches and seizures through the same lens, despite some very apparent similarities in the underlying causes.
One of the learned would of course be me. I can say this because I’ve written a book on the integrative management of migraines and epilepsy (which is, unfortunately not the name of the book–my select members of a focus group nixed this title pretty quickly, leaving me with less dramatic: Migraines and Epilepsy; How to find relief, Live well and Heal your brain).
As this particular article points out, the mechanisms leading to chronic migraine headaches and epileptic seizures overlap. These include (but are not limited to):
- Neurotransmitter problems (GABA, glutamate)
- Ion channel dysfunctions (such as sodium and potassium pumps)
- Photosensitivity plays a role in the connection
- Medications used to treat seizures are now well accepted for migraine treatment as well
The nice thing about this relationship is that natural approaches that have been shown to be effective for one can be tried in the other without waiting years for clinical studies to be done to demonstrate efficacy. You can almost consider it double the research.
As an example, let’s look at the ketogenic diet. This has been shown to be a very powerful tool in the management of refractory seizures (as to why we wait to use a dietary approach last, I haven’t yet figured that one out…) across many studies. The use of the ketogenic diet in migraines, however, is not as well studied, and yet it’s use certainly seems to make sense.
Another very compelling argument is the contribution of gluten sensitivity to both migraines and seizures. Several studies have found strong links in migraine sufferers and epileptics and the presence of gluten sensitivity. This data is solid enough to recommend a trial of gluten free living to see if it has an impact on your condition.
The benefit of supplementation like CoQ10, magnesium and vitamin D are established in both conditions as well.
The bottom line is that, luckily for chronic migraine headache sufferers and epileptics, the research community seems to be coming together around the linkage between these two conditions, albeit slowly. Personally, I think this bodes well for the future of these conditions and medicine’s ability to manage, improve or even eliminate them.
I have stated for years that the causes of chronic migraine headaches and epilepsy are the same. While not generally accepted, it is consistent with current research.
The finding of a genetic link between migraines and epilepsy have been all over the news since this article hit the mainstream media earlier this month. I have had a standing Google alert for “migraines and epilepsy” for quite some time now. Nothing was on the radar screen on the Internet until this study hit.
For those of you who know, I have a particularly strong interest in migraines and epilepsy and have spent the past 6-7 years working on my book, “Migraines and Eplepsy: You Are Not Alone.” During the writing of this book, it has been very common for me to be asked about the combination of the two conditions, because they are not generally thought of in the same sentence. This includes most specialists dealing with epilepsy and with migraines.
However, the underlying problem with both of these conditions are very, very similiar and this particular study lends weight to this concept.
Basically, researchers looked for families that had several epileptics in the family so they could basically single out a family with a strong genetic predisposition to seizures. Seizures don’t always run strongly in families, so this was the researchers way to kind of “narrow the pool” so to speak. They then looked at the presence of migraine with aura within these families and found a definite link between the two (Tweet this).
So what does this really mean? When I think genetics traits, I think of enzymes, because genetic uniquenesses that change the speed of how an enzyme runs is the most common difference or commonality in conditions that run in families (this is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP for short). With a genetic link between migraines and epilepsy, I can clearly envision an enzyme that affects how our cells generate energy (the technical term would be SNPs present that affect the mitochondrial energetic pathway).
If several family members have problems generating energy for the brain cells, this can result in different outcomes along the same path. In one family member it produces a seizure disorder. In another family member a migraine with aura.
My hope for this study is that we don’t view these as “comorbidites,” meaning that these two conditions just happen to coexist but don’t have much relationship to each other (like high triglyerides and high blood pressure). Rather, we need to view these two conditions as having the same basic problem, but with a different outcome depending upon the individual.
As an example, (and a bad one, but it’s close to bedtime as I write this) consider stress. People under extreme levels of stress may experience different outcomes. Stroke in one, heart attack in another. And cancer in a third. All stemming from the same problem, but leading to different outcomes dependent upon uniquenesses present within the individual’s makeup.
Overall, this post was designed less to educate and more to inform. If you are a migraine headache sufferer or someone who experiences seizures, pay attention to things that you may learn that help the other condition–it may benefit you as well.
Updates on the Treatment of Epilepsy in Women
The topic of seizures hits close to home for me. My wife had experienced several seizures several years ago. All her contact with mainstream medicine strongly urged anti-epileptic medication. This included a “well-known and respected” neurologist. There was NEVER any consideration that medication was not the answer. A little thought process and recollection strongly tied aspartame to her symptoms. No Nutrisweet – no seizures. To think that the doctors wanted to put her on a medication with potentially devastating side effects for a condition that was related to one initiating factor I would consider at best ignorance and apathy, at worst malpractice.
Arch Intern Med — Abstracts: Tatum et al. 164 (2): 137 -
Brain power. We want to preserve it as we age, but are there brain supplements that can protect our brain? One form of magnesium may be able to do just that.
Magnesium is one of those minerals that never seems to get the press it deserves. It’s not as glamorous as CoQ10, doesn’t sound as fancy as N-acetylcysteine and isn’t found in high concentrations in milk like calcium. Worse, if you take too much, you get the wonderful side effect of loose stools (which isn’t such a bad thing if you suffer from chronic constipation).
On the other side, magnesium is required in over 300 critical enzymes in the human body and is absolutely essential to our survival and to optimal health. The problem is that many of us are deficient in magnesium. Good food sources include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
Overall the number of Americans getting less than the recommended daily intake of magnesium is quite high. Looking at the list above, you can imagine that these types of foods may not be commonplace on the average American dinner plate.
But the story gets more interesting.
Magnesium is very, very important for your brain power and should be on the list of important brain supplements. But it’s just not easy to get most forms of magnesium to the brain because it just doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier very easily to enter the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the fluid the brain floats in and the source of much of the nutrients the brain needs. Even if you ramp up the magnesium levels in the blood to much higher levels, only a small percentage of this makes it to the brain.
Under normal circumstances, for good brain power, this is enough. Magnesium can work alongside of phytonutrients and vitamins from our diet to counteract life’s daily stresses. But what about those with more challenged brain power, like…
All of these groups may benefit from higher levels of brain supplements like magnesium in the brain. What about someone with concerns over memory such as Alzheimer’s dementia? You bet. And maybe more so than the others on the list.
So how might we get more magnesium to the brain for these people who may benefit greatly from higher concentrations of magnesium for better brain power?
Turns out some researchers may have developed an answer in a specific form of magnesium called magnesium-L-threonate. In this particular article, researchers looked at the ability of magnesium threonate to increase magnesium levels in the CSF of rats.
Once they had established that it was effective, they looked at the ability of magnesium threonate to improve brain plasticity. What is brain plasticity? Remember how you thought you killed off all those brain cells in college, never to be replaced? Sure, you’re liver and stomach lining can replace itself, but not the brain.
Wrong. The brain has the ability to replace old, worn out cells. This process is called plasticity and it is generally a good thing in the brain.
Overall, the researchers found that magnesium threonate had a strong ability to improve plasticity in the brains of these rats. While this does not necessarily mean the same thing would happen in humans, I wouldn’t bet against it.
If you think you may fit into one of the categories that may benefit from some extra brain supplements, magnesium threonate may be for you. The form is a little more expensive, but it might make the difference.
If you have tried magnesium threonate yourself, what kind of changes did you experience?
Recent studies have linked sleep apnea and chronic headaches. Since migraines and seizures have similarities, can obstructive sleep apnea cause seizures?
Sleep is absolutely vital to the health of your brain. During sleep, while our conscious mind may not be alert, this does not mean that our brain is inactive during this time. Far from it.
But sleep is not important because it allows your brain to relax, but rather because processing and healing occurs during sleep that we do not yet fully understand. It is clear that lack of sleep is a strong trigger for those suffering from migraines and seizures. For this reason, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for good brain health.
This task is not always as easy as it sounds for several reasons:
- In today’s stressed out world, chronic stress throws off normal cortisol rhythms, leading to higher cortisol levels at night, making sleep nearly impossible.
- Sleep apnea, both obstructive and central, make restorative sleep impossible.
- Our use of medications to help us sleep disrupts normal sleep patterns, potentially being linked to over half of a MILLION deaths per year.
As mentioned earlier, sleep problems have already been linked to chronic headaches and this particular study follows along these same lines as it relates to seizures. Researchers looked at an epilepsy center and evaluated those patients with seizures for the presence of obstructive sleep apnea and found:
- Patients with epilepsy had a much higher incidence of OSA compared to the general population (15.2% vs. 4.41%)
- If patient’s seizures were well controlled, then older men with a higher seizure frequency were even more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
- In those who did not have good seizure control (medically refractory), those with diabetes and snoring had a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
- Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea with a CPAP machine in refractory epilepsy patients improved their seizure control.
Clearly there is a link between sleep problems and seizure control. I would not be surprised at all if the hormone melatonin plays a pivotal role here. Numerous studies over the years have linked melatonin with protecting the brain and helping with seizure control. Sleep disturbances can be caused by a problem with melatonin production (or the timing of melatonin production) and, conversely, sleep problems can lead to altered production of melatonin in the brain.
The bottom line is that sleep is critical for normal brain health. Whether you suffer from chronic headaches or uncontrolled seizures, sleeping has to be brought under control naturally.
The long term solution to sleep problems is stress management and exercise. Few things will restore a healthy sleep pattern as well as these two. In the short term, natural compounds like valerian root may be effective on an individual basis to calm the brain enough to allow sleep to occur naturally.
Melatonin, the hormone mentioned earlier, may also help to restore normal sleep patterns. Typical starting dosages are .5 mg an hour or so before the desired bedtime.
If you have had sleep disturbances in the past, how did you manage them?
MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION AND OXIDATIVE STRESS: CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE OF EPILEPTIC SEIZURES
Regular readers of the Updates know that I feel oxidative stress and subsequent oxidative stress (or vice versa) is an underlying mechanism for many chronic conditions.
The research supporting the link between mitochondrial dysfunction and seizures is getting stronger, and yet most physicians (neurologists included) are blissfully unaware and still say diet and vitamins have no impact on seizures. That statement alone proves they have not cracked a medical journal in at least the past year.
Here’s the scenario I envision…picture the state of a neuron with poor cellular health. Mitochondria under oxidative stress unable to produce sufficient ATP or too much free radical damage to its own DNA (with poorer repair mechanisms than cellular DNA). We lose ATP in the cell or even loss of the number of mitochondria within the neuron. Couple this with poor quality fats in the cellular membrane and it is not hard to envision a state where the neuron may spontaneously depolarize–the capacitance of the cellular membrane is much reduced and just can’t hold a charge. Seizure activity results. ScienceDirect – Free Radical Biology and Medicine : Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress: cause and consequence of ..
Lovastatin exacerbates atypical absence seizures with only minimal effects on brain sterols
I was not aware that one of the side effects of the statin drugs was a certain type of seizure in humans. But, considering that the statins lower the production of CoQ10 along with the cholesterol it was supposed to lower, this really is not a surprise. CoQ10 is an important component of energy production, so in tissues like muscle, brain and liver, a drop in CoQ10 levels can have disastrous results.
Lovastatin exacerbates atypical absence seizures with only minimal effects on brain sterols — Serbanescu et al. 45 (11): 203 -
Pro-oxidant activity of aluminum in the rat hippocampus: gene expression of antioxidant enzymes after melatonin administration
Maybe I’m just looking, but it seems like there’s been an awful lot of research on melatonin lately. I had previously just considered melatonin as a sleep aid, and did not consider it as an antioxidant. However, with the current literature supporting an oxidative stress/mitochondrial dysfunction etiology for seizures, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders, I have begun to look at melatonin in a much different light with great therapeutic potential.