Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy And Complementary Medicine | July 31, 2017

Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) is just what it sounds like. Something to complement the AED regimen you’re already on. And perhaps take an extra step (with your doctor’s go-ahead) to alleviate seizures.

There are lots of alternatives, so I’ll touch on the most popular ones here. (Somehow, I don’t think you’re going to be turning to stones or amulets for relief!)

Interestingly, The Epilepsy Foundation of Arizona did a survey and it revealed that half of the people with epilepsy had tried CAM at some time for seizure control. Almost half used them for other reasons.

Overall, people found CAM to be generally beneficial to their health. The most helpful were stress reduction, yoga, and botanicals (herbs). Nonetheless, half of the patients taking botanicals had an increase in their seizures.

One third of the patients felt that CAM helped treat their epilepsy better than the AED. However, very few patients considered stopping the AED. Almost all of the patients stated they would feel comfortable informing their physician about CAM use.

“Modern medical therapy often fails, yet modern medical therapy exists because complementary and alternative medicine often fails. Both sides have to recognize each other.”  Dr. Orrin Devinsky

A variety of relaxation techniques exist which aim to relieve stress and tension, reduce blood pressure, and improve feelings of control over our lives. Workshops and classes in progressive muscular relaxation, meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, and acupuncture can be found in increasing numbers. Many of these techniques have reported improved sleep, decreased aggravation and tension during the day, increased overall health, and reduced fear of seizures, indicating a greater sense of well-being.

In addition, the general observation that techniques like meditation are side effect-free (in contrast to drugs) is of great appeal.


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 involves inserting very fine pins or needles into specific points on a person’s body to stimulate energy pathways and natural healing processes. The needles may be left inserted for a few seconds, but are more commonly left in place for 30-40 minutes. Although there has been no evidence that acupuncture can directly improve a person’s epilepsy, it has been found to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, which may then result in less seizures for some people with epilepsy. It can also improve well-being and underlying health, and help with headaches or fatigue associated with seizures.

Acupuncture is thought to work on the limbic centre of the brain, the area that is involved in moods and emotions and often implicated in epilepsy. While therapists do not suggest they can cure epilepsy they may in the long-term be able to reduce levels of stress and anxiety, which in itself will reduce the risk of seizures.


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.

The following oils may prevent seizures: Jasmine (consistently found to have anticonvulsant properties), Camomile, Lavender,  and Ylang-Ylang.


Biofeedback or Neurofeedback is a technique that may help you if your seizures start with a “warning” or “aura”. The idea is that you can learn to control your brain activity, and level of relaxation, by watching a display on a computer screen. With practice and support from a trained therapist, some people may be able to limit the length of their focal seizures or prevent these spreading to become a generalized seizure. Neurofeedback training can be effective in some people, but it requires a lot of dedication, time and hard work from both the therapist and the person with epilepsy.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic, which means “done by hand”, is very similar to osteopathy. It is based on the theory that the state of the nervous system in a person affects their health. The key element of the body structure is the spine, it is the link that carries nerves to the whole body. The vertebrae encase the tail of the brain which has an effect on the main bodily functions such as digestion, blood flow, heartbeat, the immune system and breathing. When there is nerve interference caused by spinal subluxations (misaligned vertebrae), there is disease. Through manipulations the chiropractor can realign the vertebrae and thereby release the pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Chiropractic is not believed to cure epilepsy but it is thought that it can relieve some of the stresses on the brain that may contribute to seizures. Some people have reported that sessions have triggered seizures and it is thought that practitioners who favor a gentle approach are most beneficial.

Essential Oils

There are a number of essential oils that are known to have a calming and relaxing effect. If someone’s seizures are triggered by stress, then using these oils to relax may help to reduce their seizures. Such calming oils include: jasmine, ylang ylang, camomile, and lavender (not spike lavender which is not recommended).

Research was carried out at the University of Birmingham’s seizure clinic which involved using essential oils with individuals who had epilepsy. The studies used aromatherapy massage to allow individuals to associate the smell of an essential oil with a state of relaxation. Then, when the person was stressed or felt a seizure was about to start, they could smell the essential oil. This would remind their brain of the relaxing feelings, which aimed to help stop their seizure from happening. Results showed that, with practice, a person may be able to relax by simply smelling the particular oil which could then lead to fewer seizures. From this research, jasmine oil was the most effective, although this may not be the case for everyone with epilepsy.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine uses extracts from plants to restore the natural balance of the body and encourage healing. Herbs have been used for thousands of years across the world by many different cultures to treat different health problems, including epilepsy.

There is a lack of evidence for their benefit, but that does not mean that some herbal medicine may not benefit some people. Some plants have been known for centuries for their medicinal properties, but some are poisonous, and “natural” medicines may have adverse side effects in the same way as man-made medications do.

Medicines containing herbs such as schizandra, kava kava and comfrey may increase the number of seizures for some people. Some remedies may contain unlisted ingredients, which could affect someone’s epilepsy or their existing treatment. Also some herbal remedies may affect the way AEDs work, which can reduce the effectiveness of an AED or cause harmful side effects.


The main argument for treating epilepsy — or any disease — with homeopathy is the concept that each patient is different. Though they may be diagnosed with the same disease or disorder, their symptoms are different, as are their responses to treatment and medication.

This is why people believe there are many benefits to treating epilepsy based on symptoms rather than the generalized disease. By being able to zero in on exact symptoms which patients are experiencing, it’s believed that homeopathy will have a better chance of treating those specific symptoms.

Alone, homeopathy may not help all cases of epilepsy. But together with conventional  treatment, it’s seen success as a supportive line of treatment. And in cases of drug-resistant epilepsy, people often do respond significantly to homeopathy.


Massage is often used to reduce tension and pain in muscles, help with poor sleep patterns, improve relaxation and reduce stress.

According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association of people who had at least one massage in the last five years, 30 percent report that they did so for reasons of pain management, injury rehabilitation, migraine control, or overall wellness.

A number of studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute have also shown that massage therapy may enhance well-being by stimulating the release of serotonin, a natural pain-killing and mood-elevating endorphin, and reducing the level of cortisol, a stress hormone that produces pain.


In general, meditation is a way of focusing the mind in the present moment. Some benefit by meditation tremendously. Some don’t. And for others, meditation incites seizures.

One small study of adults with epilepsy who practiced meditation for 20 minutes per day for a year, found that they had fewer, shorter seizures and a change in EEG patterns.

The patients in the control group didn’t show significant changes.

UCLA neurologist Jerome Engel clearly thinks there is some value in meditation.

Meditation can be a very good way of relaxing, releasing you from stress or anxiety and coping with fatigue and mental tiredness. Over time a meditation practice can help to clear the mind and to focus. It can also help with headaches and can promote wellbeing. The benefits of meditation may not be obvious at first, and a beginner can get disheartened. It can be best to start with a very simple meditation technique for just a few minutes a day, and gradually build up.


Based on the principle of homeostasis — that the body can heal itself and will always strive towards good health — naturopathy can trace its guiding principles back to Hippocrates who formulated them over 2,000 years ago.

Naturopathic medicine treats the whole person, taking into account the interaction of physical, mental, and emotional factors as causes of a condition. It seeks to recognize the importance of the whole person instead of just single organ systems or particular symptoms.

If treatment is directed only at the symptom, the underlying problem could cause further deterioration and resurface at a later date. Practitioners look at the patient’s “Triad of Health”, (their emotional well-being, their musculoskeletal structure and their internal biochemistry), and then prescribe a range of therapies designed to improve circulation and digestion, increase the elimination of waste products and boost the immune system.

When it comes to epilepsy, naturopathy and a range of related treatment methods may have a good deal to offer, as long as it is coordinated with your neurological care.


Foot massage has been used for centuries as an aid to relaxation. Reflexologists, however, go a step further, believing that the sole of the foot is covered with reflex points which relate to the rest of the body.

The therapist uses pressure on these points to release tension and encourage the body’s natural healing processes.

Reflexology can be deeply relaxing for some people, so it could be of great use to those whose epilepsy is triggered by stress. However, care needs to be taken as over-stimulation may trigger an attack. If using reflexology it is a good idea to consult a practitioner who understands epilepsy.


Yoga is a system of postures and breathing that originated in India and is thousands of years old. In its purest form yoga is a fully integrated system controlling all aspects of life, aiming towards spiritual enlightenment. In the West, however, it is more commonly used to increase suppleness and as a very effective relaxation technique. There are many different forms or schools of yoga. It is recommended that a qualified practitioner teach yoga and that the yoga student should aim to practice every day.

Yoga can help with epilepsy as breathing exercises can help to halt a seizure by focusing the mind on the breath. Yoga can also help to bring about a state of deep relaxation, which will help for stress-induced attacks.

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  1. Have tried to post a reply but it has been refused several times?


    Comment by Margaret — July 31, 2017 @ 5:13 PM

  2. Am trying again with more text! Sorry for my silence over the last few days – these things we have called seizures decided to come for a visit!! Just getting my head back together again. I really want to write more about these episodic/autobiographic memory losses. For me they are a horrendous part of my epilepsy and I would so much like to share with others how it affects them but I need to be a bit brighter and bouncier again before I can do that. Will be back to join in asap. I’m also interested in your article, Phylis, on Complimentary treatments, therapy etc. Thank you as always.


    Comment by Margaret — July 31, 2017 @ 5:14 PM

  3. Hi Phyllis,
    I think it’s unfair and perhaps confusing to some people to lump in valuable things such as herbal medicines with utter nonsense such as homeopathy.

    Medicines found in nature can be very effective. Aspirin is willow bark and it works really well.

    Homeopathy is pure quackery. Diluting something a gazillion times does not make it more potent.

    Lumping nonsense in with actual remedies can give the entire “CAM” spectrum of treatments a bad name.


    Comment by paleobird — July 31, 2017 @ 5:55 PM

    • Sigh. I must say, having written for both, I disagree. Even though you don’t agree, each has its own merits. Different yes. But not totally contrary.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 31, 2017 @ 11:05 PM

      • Sigh, back atcha Phyllis. I know you are a very intelligent well informed person but on this one you are just plain off base. Way off base.
        Homeopathy is pseudo-scitific nonsense which has never been proven to have anything but a placebo effect.
        If people want to waste their time and money on it, that is their choice. If they forgo other treatments that could actually do something positive because a homeopathic snake oil purveyor talked them into it, that is criminal, IMO.

        My greater concern however is all CAM remedies getting painted with the same broad brush. Nutritional supplements, massage, etc all actually DO something to the body. A vial of 20X homeopathic preparation of whatever curative substance does absolutely nothing because it is so dilute that, in the entire vial, there is only an infinitesimally small chance of having even one molecule of the original substance. IT IS A VIAL OF WATER. And, no, there is no such thing as “water memory”.

        Grandma always said, “Keep an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out.”
        Being open to the idea that turmeric could help a neurological condition is “open minded”. Believing in homeopathy is your brains hitting the floor.


        Comment by paleobird — August 9, 2017 @ 7:19 PM

      • Ok Paleobird, you may disagree with certain aspects (particularly homeopathy) but I have written about and experienced different CAM. Arthur, who has severe neuropathy from his waist to his toes has so also, successfully.

        That doesn’t mean that it’s been done without medical support, but it does ameliorate the condition. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, because for some (Arthur included), homeopathy has had some success. Maybe it’s the Dumbo feather, maybe it’s something else. I can’t say, because I’ve never been there.

        Regardless, I love what your grandmother said: “Keep an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out.”



        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 9, 2017 @ 8:05 PM

  4. I don’t understand why most physicians and nurses don’t recognize seizures that aren’t tremors. seizures causing pains in temples, headaches, memory loss, fever, confusion and headaches…that’s more or less what I have. Please help…


    Comment by Tesd — August 1, 2017 @ 4:46 AM

  5. My daughter takes a B-complex and D3 supplement along with her AED’s. Some of her AED’s cause agitation and I believe the B vitamins helps her be more calm. The D vitamin is to help her bone strength.


    Comment by victoria kraeger — August 1, 2017 @ 7:06 PM

    • I’m a big believer in B-Complex supplements.

      They are without a question, the star of all vitamins.

      In sufficient quantities, especially those that combine B6, B12, folic acid, thiamine and biotin, they are vital to the production of numerous brain chemicals.

      Like the neurotransmitters which serve as the chemical message bearers between your nervous system and brain.

      The most efficient way to make use of this “brain food,” is to take it in a B complex form, since this contains all the vitamins in the B group.

      And when combined, they work synergistically together.

      Take a single B-50 B complex tablet twice a day with food.

      Each dose should contain 50 micrograms of vitamin B12 and biotin, 400 micrograms of folic acid, and 50 milligrams each of all the other B vitamins.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 1, 2017 @ 7:17 PM

  6. The beauty yet frustration of each of us being unique in all aspects of ourselves, including epilepsy! Thank you for the information on all of these great options. When I’ve written about this topic there is never enough time/room to write and cover all aspects of these ancient therapies in all their glory. What is important to note is to possess an open minded/understanding from people reading this that not every method will work for each individual just like not all orthodox meds work for seizures. With the use of homeopathy, massage, nutrition and acupuncture I was fortunate enough to be off drugs and had complete seizure control for three years. The number one thing I would suggest for people trying alternative therapies is you have to commit to adhering 150% and it often takes longer to take effect so patience really is a virtue. Also, you can find there are healing crisis’: it can get worse before it gets better. You wouldn’t sporadically take orthodox meds, you would take them daily otherwise it’s highly likely seizures would occur, alternative therapies are no different. If you can’t commit to what is required for it to be effective don’t try it as you won’t reap any benefit, only negativity to spread among those who haven’t experimented, potentially robbing them of what could be a successful experience.


    Comment by Freya — August 2, 2017 @ 2:03 PM

  7. Phyllis,
    You say you have written about and experienced “different CAM”. So have I. I am a firm believer that nutrition and exercise and body work can have as much if not more benefits to neurological conditions than Rx meds.
    But homeopathy is not CAM. It is magical incantations over chicken bones. I don’t doubt that people do subjectively experience placebo benefits. Sugar pills work too. Homeopathy has NEVER stood up to a placebo controlled blind efficacy test. NEVER.
    You can’t stand there and say, “I haven’t personally experienced it so I can’t know for sure”. Balderdash! Anyone with a functioning brain can know that a substance, any substance, diluted to the point where there is not even one molecule of the original substance in the vial is just a vial of water. The problem about homeopathy is that it was invented before anybody knew what a molecule was.

    The problem for advocates of CAM is that, nobody is going to take you seriously when you advocate for something like nutritional supplements or body work if you are unable to draw the distinction between actual science and “woo-sci”.
    I ran into this problem many times on the Coping With Epilepsy site where I would be trying to talk about the benefits of something like turmeric and I would be met with, “Well, you CAM types are all like that. You believe in nonsense like homeopathy. Of course you believe something like a kitchen spice could be a medicine. Pfft.”

    Not all CAM is created equal. The only people who can believe in homeopathy are those who are scientifically so ignorant that they don’t understand what a molecule is. I don’t need to experience it personally to know that the moon is not made of green cheese and that homeopathy is pseudo-scientific nonsense. I paid attention in high school science class.


    Comment by paleobird — August 10, 2017 @ 5:55 PM

    • I sense a rebuke here. And yes, perhaps homeopathy is snake oil and those that participate are like Dumbo trying to catch that magic feather.

      And yes, not all CAM practices are equal. I’m sure others might argue about Aromatherapy, or Massage, but they exist and aid others.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 10, 2017 @ 6:31 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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