Alternative Medicine for Epilepsy

Instructor: Amanda Robb
Although there are many conventional methods for treating epilepsy, alternative medicine is becoming a more prominent treatment option. Learn what alternative medicine is available for epilepsy and why it is used.

What Is Epilepsy?

Picture a summer storm. Thunder claps loudly and lightening surges down, creating streams of electricity between the clouds and the ground. You might be surprised to learn that your brain also uses electricity, like the electricity you see during a lightening storm.

Cells in the brain called neurons send messages using electrical currents (although they are a much lower voltage than lightening). However, like a thunderstorm, your brain can also experience too much electrical activity.

Epilepsy is an uncontrolled surge of electricity through the brain, which causes seizures. Seizures can appear as the grand mal seizures (generalized tonic-clonic seizure) we see on television, with the patient passing out and convulsing violently. However, seizures can also be almost undetectable, seen as a patient spacing out for few moments, shaking, or losing control of part of their body.

Today, many medications exist to treat epilepsy and there are also behavior modifications that help, such as avoiding triggers like flashing lights. However, about a third of epileptic patients do not respond to treatment, called drug resistant epilepsy. These patients have the option of alternative medicine, or medicine that is not traditionally used in modern, Western medical practice. However, any treatment plan should be reviewed and approved by a medical professional.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements include any nutrient or vitamin added to your diet to control epilepsy. Two of the more effective dietary modifications include the ketogenic diet and fish oil supplements.

Ketogenic Diet

It's the first day of your ketogenic diet, and you're hoping it helps control your seizures.

  • You have an egg omelet for breakfast, loaded with cheese, bacon and some vegetables.
  • For lunch, you have a salmon salad with nuts, avocado and a creamy dressing.
  • Dinner is spicy ground beef over a bed of lettuce with olive oil and crushed peanuts.

What's going on with this diet? If you're familiar with nutrition, you'll notice that this diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, called a ketogenic diet.

High fat foods are the essence of a ketogenic diet

Normally, your body prefers to metabolize carbohydrates to make energy. When you deprive yourself of carbohydrates, your body will switch to using fat. But, fat metabolism produces a molecule called a ketone, thus the name 'keto'genic diet.

This type of diet has been shown to be effective in some studies of epilepsy, particularly in children. Scientists believe the ketogenic diet may increase nutrient distribution and blood flow to the brain.

Fish Oil

If you're not a fan of fish, don't be turned off by this alternative medicine. Although fish oil is derived from the fatty tissues in fish, it can be packaged as a gel capsule or tablet, eliminating the fishy taste.

Many people take fish oil as a supplement for omega-3 fatty acids, but there is also some evidence it can treat epilepsy. Although some studies had shown no improvement in epileptic patients, one study published in 2014 in the Journal of Neurology, Neuroscience and Psychiatry treated 24 patients with placebo or fish oil.

The results indicated a 30% decrease in seizure frequency, indicating fish oil could be used as an alternative medicine in some patients. Scientists think that chemicals in the fish oil are responsible for decreasing electrical activity in the brain.

Fish oil comes in capsules as an alternative medicine
fish oil


Herbal therapy has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Although some people personally believe in this treatment, there is little if any medical research to support it. Some herbs can even exacerbate seizures, making them worse. The best step is to talk to get advise from a professional.


Acupuncture is another ancient Chinese treatment for various illnesses. Those supporting this type of alternative medicine believe that energy flows through the body and can occasionally be blocked, causing illness.

Specific insertion of fine needles can remove the blocks, allowing balance to be restored to the body. Although there is research supporting the use of acupuncture in other illnesses, medical research does not support acupuncture as a treatment for epilepsy currently.

Given that there are few side effects to acupuncture, some patients do try it despite the lack of evidence of efficacy.


Imagine getting a new puppy. It's important that you train your puppy so she behaves well. You reward her for good behavior, and give firm feedback for bad. Although our brain is hardly a puppy, you can train it in a similar way, called neurofeedback.

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