There is no doubt that epilepsy can be an immensely debilitating condition. Working, social events, driving and family life are all greatly disrupted, if even possible. Sadly, less than 30% of the time the first seizure drug used is effective at controlling the seizure. From this point on it just gets more difficult. Anything that can aid in seizure control can be life changing for these patients.
Few neurologists will give any recommendations for natural products to their patients. Maybe it is a belief in the superior power of pharmaceutical drugs where natural compounds can’t possibly compare. Maybe it’s a belief that there is no research to support natural compounds to control such a debilitating condition, at the same time refusing to embrace the frequent failure of pharmaceutical drugs to achieve seizure control. Whatever the reason, it does not serve the patient’s best interests. Many natural compounds have been shown to have significant seizure control abilities:
- The omega 3 fatty acid DHA has been shown to reduce seizures by 20%
- Melatonin has shown anti-seizure effects in mice
- The amino acid glutamine may increase GABA levels and aid in seizure control
This list does not include approaches like the ketogenic diet and a gluten free diet, both of which can play a strong role in seizure avoidance.
This particular article adds to the list of supplements that may play a role in your seizure control. Supplementation with vitamin D in a small group of seizure patients in whom drugs were not controlling their seizures led to a 40% reduction in seizure frequency. 40%. That’s a pretty strong response.
Vitamin D has been known to act as an anti-convulsant for some time now. This is important to remember because a lot of the anti-epileptic drugs – the AED’s – actually lower levels of vitamin D in the blood. So, we have a compound that actually helps protect the brain, but the drugs that we use to control seizures actually lower the levels of a substance that can protect the brain. This creates somewhat of a conundrum. This may also be the reason why most AEDs also have a negative effect on bone density, again strongly supporting the use of vitamin D in migraines and epilepsy.
Taking vitamin D as a supplement is very inexpensive and the safety margins on the dosages of Vitamin D are quite wide (toxicity with vitamin D is not noted until the blood levels are over 200 nmol / L, which is a pretty difficult level reach). However, if someone has any concerns about taking higher dosages of Vitamin D, blood levels can easily be checked. Optimal blood levels are between 60 and 100 nmol / L, although most labs will consider 20 and over as normal.
There are times when vitamin D supplementation may be of concern. One such situation is with the use of thiazide diuretics that raise the level of calcium (due to reduced excretion). Also patients with the auto-immune granulomatous disorder sarcoidosis need to be a little bit more cautious. Other conditions known to increase the levels of calcium in the blood like histoplasmosis or hyperparathyroidism require care with supplementation. If someone has any questions or concerns they should obviously discuss them with their primary care doctor. In addition, there are a lot of great resources on the Internet.
Recommended dosages depend on several factors, such as how much sun exposure you get or what latitude that you live at (higher latitudes get less direct sunlight so our bodies make less vitamin D; near the equator vitamin D production is at is highest). Many mistakenly believe that they get enough sun exposure and that supplementation is not needed. However, there is concern that the sun passing through glass allows only UVA penetration, actually breaking down the production of vitamin D in the skin. So if you drive around all summer with the windows up in your car and the AC cranked, you may actually be lowering your vitamin D levels. Furthermore, it takes at least 8 hours to fully produce and absorb the vitamin D our skin is trying to produce, so showering at night may lower blood vitamin D levels. There is also concern of particulate matter in the atmosphere blocking UVB penetration and also lowering vitamin D levels.
Because of these concerns, I generally start patients anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 IU per day, although it is sometimes higher depending upon the clinical scenario. Having your bone density checked can further help determine vitamin D need. In our clinic we strongly recommend patients have their first bone density testing in their 20’s and 30’s so they aren’t waiting until they’re 55 or 60 and are now at the crisis stage for treating low bone density.
For supplementation, liquid forms are going to be much cheaper and easier to use. Vitamin D can actually be dosed on a weekly basis. The vitamin D we use in the office has 2,000 IUs per drop; if someone is on 2,000 IUs per day they can actually do seven drops once a week. It is one of the easiest and cheapest supplements to take.