This topic was one of many general areas of discussion during the professional development sessions, Advances in Epilepsy Therapy, organized by the Bloorview Epilepsy Research Program, at the recent Epilepsy Ontario Annual General Meeting.
This article is based on presentations and materials distributed by various qualified speakers in those sessions, including Dr. McIntyre Burnham, Dr. Peter Carlen, Dr. Heather Edwards, Ms. Irene Elliott, and Dr. Shelly Weiss.
Alternative and complementary medical practices have expanded a great deal in the past few years. In the United States of America, visits to practitioners of alternative medical treatments have grown from 427 million in 1990 to 629 million in 1997. So too has the industry of alternative approaches, with annual spending now exceeding US$27 billion in the USA.
Alternative treatments may include the use of "natural" products Ò herbs, vitamins, minerals Ò acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic and changes in lifestyle.
Although some research into the use of acupuncture has been done with canine (dog) epilepsy, there is currently no indication for using it in the treatment of human epilepsies.
Using positive reinforcement, biofeedback attempts to decrease the heart rate and to increase relaxation. Biofeedback is a long procedure which is not covered by OHIP. It is used to treat some cases of Attention Deficit Disorder, and some anxieties and phobias. Some people with seizure disorders may find it useful in learning their triggers.
Although some claim biofeedback may reduce seizure activity in some people, most information is anecdotal: more research is needed before biofeedback can be considered useful in treating epilepsy.
The chiropractic literature reports that the correction of "vertebral subluxations through the application of chiropractic adjustments" might be used to treat seizures. However, there are no studies documenting its efficacy.
For at least 2,000 years, qingyang shen has been used in Chinese cultures to control seizures. It is now known to have antiepileptic properties (altering gene expression in the brain) and to decrease seizures in rats. Shosaiko-to-go-keishi-ka-shakuyaku-to (nine-herb extract) from Japan has been reported to decrease seizures in mice. Many other herbs Ò some very toxic and many seizure-inducing Ò were previously used in the West as well. Further research is needed.
"Natural" does not necessarily mean good or safe. Many plants can induce violent reactions or acute poisoning when ingested. Natural remedies are not subject to testing as rigorously as are pharmaceuticals and batches may vary in quality. Some products may be contaminated. Other products and treatments may actually be harmful. Individuals may experience severe allergic reactions to some products and/or adulterants. Some people may be induced to stop taking prescribed medications, suffering rebound seizures.
The public may access a wealth of information about herbs at the US Department of Agriculture's Internet site at "http://probe.nalusda.gov".
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
Normal air is about 21% oxygen. In a hyperbaric chamber, atmospheric pressure is increased for up to 1? hours to deliver more (up to 100%) oxygen to the body's tissues not only via the lungs and blood but by all body fluids.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) is approved in the treatment of 13 conditions, including some treatments of areas of the body subjected to low oxygen (hypoxia), the promotion of wound healing, poisoning by carbon monoxide or cyanide, tissue damage due to radiation, decompression illness (the "bends") and air embolism. It may be effective in some instances of stroke, migraine and cerebral palsy. Neither epilepsy nor any other neurological condition is indicated. Its use in the treatment of epilepsy is not covered by OHIP.
Risks may include ruptured eardrums, nearsightedness (temporary in 40% of adults), collapsed lungs (pneumothorax) and seizures due to oxygen toxicity.
More information may be found at the following sites:
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Online
CanChild (Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster U.)
Changes in Lifestyle
Changing things which may affect one's seizure threshold may prove more helpful than many other "alternatives". It remains important to moderate the intake of caffeine, alcohol, aspartame, and other substances which may lower the seizure threshold. The benefits of regular, nutritious meals, stress control, and sufficient sleep cannot be underestimated.
Using Alternative Treatments
Anyone thinking about using any alternative treatment should be sure to keep open communications between all parties: doctors, practitioners, pharmacists and patients. Above all, doctors must know whether or not a patient is taking all prescribed medication(s).