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Epilepsy

Complementary approaches and epilepsy

At present the most successful treatment for epilepsy is anti-epileptic medication.

Research into the use and effectiveness of complementary therapies in epilepsy is limited, but interest in this area is growing and more work is being carried out.

Complementary therapies can help to give people with epilepsy a sense of control over their bodies and lives, and in improving their sense of well-being. Complementary approaches are best used as a complement to an existing drug treatment, with both the knowledge and approval of the doctor.

Several people we interviewed had used complementary therapies at some point. A few people noted that they had not used complementary approaches for epilepsy but had used them for other conditions. One woman, who had trained in complementary therapies, said she had benefited from aromatherapy oils, reflexology, and group counselling.

 

Mentions the benefits of aromatherapy oils, reflexology and group counselling.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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So during the time that you'd had epilepsy and ovarian cancer, had you tried any complementary therapies with those conditions?

Not specifically with the epilepsy because that had been so well controlled but certainly with the ovarian cancer. I think things like oils and I did have some reflexology, even now. And also just general counselling, group therapy work.

And how did you find all of these beneficial? 

I'm a great believer in that if you're, if you're not stressed, if you're relaxed, the immune system is working more effectively and if the immune system's working more effectively then problems like cancer may never develop. Now I'm not saying won't but I'm sure that, I personally think that there's a link between emotional problems and problems that are developed in late, later on, so many years later. 

Anything you want to add in terms of the complementary therapies?

Uh, no, but I do think, not, I do think that using essential oils at a low level for massage can help, can be very relaxing. And also having reflexology as a form of treatment. But there are lots of other therapies out there that I'm sure help with epilepsy and cancer and meningitis just as much.

Some people discussed the advantages of having an aromatherapy massage. One man described benefiting from cranial massage. He also discussed the costs of complementary therapies and that he would have liked more information on alternative treatments. Others expressed doubts about the effectiveness of complementary approaches to epilepsy.

 
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Discusses having cranial massage and some concerns about complementary therapies.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 24
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There's one I think that was useful. What happened, I hurt my back, it may actually have been from a seizure, I hurt my back so went to an osteopath who was also a cranial osteopath. And so when he was working on my back he'd also do cranial osteopathy on me and, during that period of time, the seizures were less frequent. But also at that time I tried taking some vitamins which he'd recommended. But I stopped going to him for a time and also stopped the vitamins. But basically my wife also told me that cranial osteopathy was helping.

Yes, so would you have that again or not? 

I would do, I was paying for that privately and so couldn't pay for it on an ongoing basis. 

So why do you think that helped?

I think probably another thing which contributes to it is probably stress. It's hard to know because stress is generally also tied up with times of being tired. But my own personal view is it's all to do with the brain and electric charges that are running round the brain, so the cranial osteopathy effectively is massage of the brain. It helps things to work more smoothly, I imagine that's why it helped. 

Probably the one useful thing to understand would be more of what the alternative medicines could do, and the way in general I think that the medical profession is set up in this country is that there's standard policies on medicine and the alternative medicines are not frowned upon but they're just not really established and so it's not really offered. So the cranial osteopathy I don't think is something which is offered as a standard, whereas it just happened by chance that the osteopath I went to did this and was a bit more into alternative medicine. And it was useful, it worked at that point in time so that's the kind of thing that might be very useful. 

Would you consider finding out about these things? 

Yes I would do, I mean one thing I would say is that probably the cost of going and having cranial osteopathy once a week is probably less than the cost of the drugs I'm on, which don't do that much I don't think.

 

Explains that she is wary of complementary therapies.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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And have you ever tried any complementary treatments, homeopathy or anything like that?

Not really no, I'm a little bit wary of it. I'm willing to try anything if it works sort of thing, you know I wouldn't mind; but I'm a bit wary of some of these things, how safe are they you know? And will that trigger something off, you know you might take all these different things and you know, I'm a bit wary. The oil, as I say the primrose thing as I say, they say don't touch this, it has put me off them, things are a little bit you know! (laughs). 

A few of those interviewed had used the Bach Rescue Remedy and noted how it had helped them feel more relaxed. Several people mentioned the importance of relaxing and recalled trying breathing exercises, yoga and meditation. Others reported occasionally using hypnotherapy and acupuncture. One person discussed using biofeedback, and another explained how homeopathy had helped him. He also recommended going to reputable, registered practitioners.

 

Explains that she felt the Bach Rescue Remedy helped her.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 1
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It's a Bach Rescue Remedy. Its a liquid, its to comfort and reassure, its to, what's it say? Its on the box it would say actually, but its to help you feel more calmer and you know whenever you feel a bit anxiety or uptight or stressed or anything, just quickly take you know either a few drops in some water and just sip the water on odd occasions. Or if you're busy working like I have been, I carry it around in my pocket at work and have a few drops on my tongue at a time. And its, I was told again, that was from my foster mother, that sort of thing helps. And it does, I do believe it does.     

And when you take this Remedy do you feel relaxed almost straight away or after half an hour or something, how does it work? 

I suppose it doesn't take that long at all. You sort of feel it sort of within five, ten minutes, you do feel, it makes you feel a bit more sort of calmer too. You know I feel more positive and, a bit more, I've taken something, in my mind I say to myself I'm going to feel a bit better now you know. 

 

Discusses the breathing exercises that have helped her to relax more.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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But I did learn, I've learnt the technique with a group of people. So when I have had my night fits I just take a couple of deep breaths through my belly and I just relax and, or just turn over. To start with it was oh my God I can't do this. But if you just relax its fine.

' It's just breathing through your belly rather than breathing through, because if you breath through your nose you feel all light-headed whereas you just, well you just sit there and just, or lie there and you just turn over. The last fit I actually had this year in the year 2002, or one of them is, I actually was in bed, this was, and I hit my head and the following day I had a fit and it really shocked me because I hadn't had one for a couple of months and it frightened me to hell. And I thought no, just relax again and it did actually go away.

 

Explains that he has homeopathic treatment and recommends going to reputable, registered...

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Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I was also helped by a homeopath, I'm still helped by a homeopath who does, there's one particular remedy given me which helps calm me down, and a calmer person is less likely to have fits. So I think it's a mix. I think it's a mix of the right drug for me now, I'm now on it [Lamictal] just by itself and even if I have fits they're usually because of tiredness, perhaps the last one because of a lighting problem, stress.

... If you go to someone who is registered as a particular member of a society, either reflexology, acupuncture, whatever, they will give you an honest answer. But do go to someone who is registered and preferably someone who has a good reputation.  In the case of myself and the homeopath, it was very much three or four people recommending him. And I think that its again quite important, the, so do go on. I think recommendation is a good one for the, I don't think there's any problem in trying things. Probably, I would suggest that you're in close contact with your doctor or consultant on these matters. 

Diet was an important consideration for some people. One woman, whose son had severe epilepsy, discussed the dairy-free and gluten-free diet that he was on. Another woman, who had slowly been weaned off anti-epileptic drugs, reported being on a Chinese diet.

 

Discusses the Chinese diet she is on.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 10
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At the moment I am on a specific type of diet which I have been given by a Chinese health carer, who tells me that this diet will cure my epilepsy in three years. It's fairly basic so it's quite hard really to stick to but I took, I did it twenty years ago between the first baby and the second baby and that was the time that I had fewest seizures. I think I only had one seizure in eighteen months and that's the longest I've ever gone in my life 

But its not conclusive I feel because it could be to do with the hormonal changes of pregnancy, of having a young baby, breast-feeding and then pregnancy again, I don't know. I'm hoping that it will heal my epilepsy. It's similar to a macrobiotic diet. It's no processed foods, no caffeine, no alcohol, no white flour, white sugar, just basic foods, brown flour, brown pasta, brown rice and lots of vegetables. No potatoes and tomatoes and spinach, but otherwise all the vegetables. 

So how long have you been doing this diet? 

Since October. 

And how do you feel so far?

My husband tells me that I'm in better health, definitely not taking dairy produce I don't have problems with my sinuses any longer, which I hadn't realised that that was the link, so that's interesting. 

When discussing complementary therapies, several people also noted the therapeutic effects of music and art. One man explained how art, creative writing and meditation had benefited him over the years.

 

Explains how art, creative writing and meditation have helped him.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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Art is probably the one I'm most interested in but that's one thing which is a form of self therapy in many ways. And my interest in that leads on to creative writing because expressing yourself when you're writing is a wonderful medium and its what you need if you want to get involved in sharing ideas with people and expressing them to different audiences. 

Have you ever been interested at all in complementary approaches to epilepsy? 

Oh when I was going through I suppose a control period I was trying to deal with my psycho/social problems, I was trying all sorts of different medications and I was, I used to do meditation at the time, I'm a big meditative person, I'm a strong believer in many of those things. Now I don't have time to practice it but if I was in a house with space I'd probably meditate again. I was doing yoga but as the seizures got worse it's a bit embarrassing wandering out of the room half naked, so I stopped that. But I have an interest in those things just as I have a strong belief in there's body energies, you've got your seven chakras and that's how you can become aware of different chemicals rushing round your body. Or if you give time to actually think how you actually feel, hence the hesitation, I'm becoming aware in my body. So yes always an underlying interest in that.

Some therapeutic activities, such as gardening, art or walking, cost little or nothing. They may also improve general health, fitness and confidence.

Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated May 2016.

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