Brain Damage in Epilepsy—Can it be Avoided?

brain damage in seizures

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I don’t need to go into how epilepsy is a condition not limited to the brain, because I have covered this many times in the past.

This is also just one of the areas where migraines and seizures have similarities—migraines are also a brain condition that is not limited to the brain.  Both are an indication that something is very, very wrong.

All of the evidence points to an underlying problem with the way the brain cells are able to produce and use energy.  This problem is referred to as mitochondrial dysfunction (which just so happens to be one of my favorite phrases and, coincidentally, the root of all that is evil in chronic disease…).

In seizures, this problem generating energy leads to the brain cells firing before they are supposed to fire, resulting in a domino effect on other brain cells, producing the uncontrolled brain firing of a seizure.

In migraines, it is unclear whether the mitochondrial dysfunction creates the headaches by affecting the way blood vessels react in the brain, or whether a problem with the way blood vessels react (called flow mediated dilation) starves the brain for the nutrients it needs to generate energy.  Luckily, the lifestyle changes for both conditions are the same.

Regardless, researchers seem to agree that there is a serious problem with the blood vessels in both migraines and seizures.  Ultimately, blood vessel problems play a role in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well.

To clarify what I mean by “blood vessel problems,” you need to understand that your blood vessels are very dynamic.  They expand and contract as needed based on signals they get from the cells they feed to provide nutrients.  As an example, if you took a racquetball and started squeezing it repeatedly, the muscles cells in your hand and wrist will quickly need more nutrients to continue.  As a result a signal is sent to the blood vessels of the arms, causing them to dilate (open) and increase blood flow into the forearm and hand.

Picture this same action in the brain.  When the brain cells in an area need more oxygen, glucose or micronutrients, blood flow to this area of the brain increases.  No imagine if the blood vessels were no longer as responsive.  You end up with starving brain cells.  Not a good scenario.

With this as background, I’d like to throw this particular article into the mix.  In it, researchers reviewed the dangerous relationship between blood vessel function and damage and cognitive decline.  They open with identifying findings that are common between chronic epilepsy, Alzheimer’s dementia and age-related cognitive decline.  These include:

  1. Increased plaquing in the carotid arteries (CA–IMT)
  2. Elevated homocysteinemia levels
  3. Lipid abnormalities (cholesterol, triglycerides, VLDL, low HDL, etc…)
  4. Weight gain and obesity
  5. Insulin resistance / prediabetes
  6. High levels of inflammation
  7. High levels of oxidative stress

All of these factors wreak havoc on blood vessel health.  Poor vessel health not only damages the brain cells that it feeds, but the long-term dysfunction in the blood vessels ultimately damages the blood vessels themselves, leading to hardening of the arteries, making the starvation of the brain cells permanent.

All of this damage to the blood vessels lead to brain damage.  The authors note a few of the well-accepted brain changes as a result of this damage.  These include:

  • Decreased volume of the hippocampus (an area also shrunk by chronic stress and one of the areas that are damaged in Alzheimer’s dementia)
  • Increased cortical thinning of the frontal lobe (the area of the brain that deals with personality).
  • Ventricular expansion and increased white matter ischemic disease (a sign of brain cells dying)
  • Total brain atrophy (basically a shrinking brain)
  • β-amyloid protein in the brain (one of the principle proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer’s dementia patients)

If you’re still reading this far, then you now understand just how critically important it is to go beyond seizure control to making whatever lifestyle changes you need to make.  A true anti-seizure treatment protocol needs to include a lifestyle that is anti-diabetic and anti-heart disease.  Luckily, these lifestyles are pretty much the same.

And you may find that, once you have adopted a healthier lifestyle, your seizures will also improve.  You’ve got nothing to lose.

Except your brain cells.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.