The Brain Chemistry of Epilepsy.

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Epilepsy is listed under “Seizure disorders” due to its predominant symptom. It is a disorder which affects the neurological and nervous systems of the body. Onset of the disorder can happen at any stage in life. Usually if the onset is present from birth or before the age of 2 it can be due to a neurological defect or fever.

If the onset is during adulthood it is often caused by an event such as a stroke [1]. However, 1 in 26 people will develop some form of Epilepsy in their lifetime [2]. It’s believed that there are 65 million people worldwide with Epilepsy [3].

What is it caused by?

Some forms of Epilepsy can be inherited via genetic factors from the parent. This can be a genetic factor that causes the offspring to also develop the symptoms. Another cause of Epilepsy is a brain injury such as head trauma or a stroke, this alters the brain’s chemistry and causes the onset of Epilepsy.

The direct cause of Epilepsy is “idiopathic”, which means unknown. Recent research has found that the cause of the disorder may be hardwired in the brain. The problems lie with poor messaging and nerve transmission in the brain. The cause of this is a faulty Serotonin system, which goes on to effect Glutamate (excitory) and GABA (inhibitory systems)[4]. One study on rats found that those most prone to symptoms of Epilepsy had low serotonin levels in their brains. The lower the Serotonin the worse the symptoms appeared [5].

What are the symptoms?

There are two types of Epilepsy, Generalised and Partial:

  • Generalized seizure Epilepsy- The seizures can occur both sides of the brain at any one time. Between seizures the person will show no other symptoms and be able to conduct a normal life.
  • Partial seizure Epilepsy- The seizure effects a very specific part of the brain which can lead to repetitive symptoms. Although they may start in one area of the brain they are likely to spread.[6]

Many people who suffer from Epilepsy can predict the onset of a fit due to “unusual” sensations that occur that is referenced as their “aura”. Aura-like symptoms includes:

  • Abnormal tastes and smells
  • Déjà vu
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Tingling sensation all over the body.
  • Seizures last between 1 to 2 minutes and are characterised by spasms of the body, unconsciousness, lack of speech, hallucinations, blurred vision, fatigue, sore muscles, weakness and sometimes loss of bladder control [1].

Treatments for Epilepsy.

Generally, the person suffering from Epilepsy will undergo a course of anti-consvulsants or anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) such as Acetazolamide. However these can have terrible and unbearable side effects which leads to poor compliance. Often if the side effects are so terrible, brain surgery is recommended [1,7].

On the other hand symptoms can be managed naturally via diet and supplementation. A Ketogenic diet is highly recommended for people with Epilepsy. A Ketogenic diet is one high in fat and low in carbohydrates. When the body runs out of its primary energy source (carbohydrates) it relies on fat as an energy source. When fat is metabolised it produces ketones such as Acetoacetate, Beta-hydroxybutyrate and Acetone, which can be used by the brain as an energy source. The aim of a ketogenic diet is to change the chemical composition of the brain. It has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of Epilepsy [2,7]. One study by Marsh et-al (2006) looked at Epilepsy in children. Following a 3 to 6 year follow up it was found that there was a decrease in the number of seizures that occurred [8]. However, this is not recommended for those with a family history of Cardiovascular Disease.

As mentioned before, Serotonin has a huge part to play in the role of Epilepsy. The risk of epileptic fits increased the lower the neurological Serotonin level was. Studies have shown that therapies that increase Serotonin levels decreased the number of epileptic fits greatly. One extremely effective supplement is 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) [9]. 5-HTP is the mid-step in the production of Serotonin. It begins with the amino acid Tryptophan, which when inside the body is converted to 5-HTP using co-factors Vitamin B6 and Magnesium. Then 5-HTP is converted to Serotonin, using cofactors Vitamin B6, Magnesium and Zinc. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement has been proven to naturally boost your body’s Serotonin levels which has been seen to be effective in reducing the number of epileptic seizures.

How to take 5-HTP?

5-HTP can be taken in tablet or powder form. It is suggested that you take between 50-200mg of 5-HTP per day for the best results. We do advise however that no medication is changed without the consent of a doctor or practitioner.

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  1. Adamolekun,B. (2016). Seizure Disorders. Available: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/seizure-disorders/seizure-disorders.
  2. Escott-Stump.S. (2015). 4: Neuropsychiatric Conditions-Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders. In: Joyce, J and Malakoff-Klein, E Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Walters-Kluwer. Pg. 248-250.
  3. Epilepsy Foundation . (2014). About Epilepsy. Available: http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics.
  4. Epilepsy Society. (2016). Scientists find new potential treatment for absence seizures. Available: https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/News/Scientists-find-new-potential-treatment-for-absence-seizures-17-02-2016#.V_IUCCgrKUl.
  5. Chugani.H and Chugani.D. (2005). Imaging of Serotonin Mechanisms in Epilepsy. Epilepsy Currents. 5 (6), Pg. 201-206.
  6. Simon. H. (2013). Epilepsy. Available: http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/epilepsy.
  7. NHS. (2014). Treating Epilepsy. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Epilepsy/Pages/treatment.aspx.
  8. Marsh.EB, et-al. (2006). The outcome of children with intractable seizures: a 3- to 6-year follow-up of 67 children who remained on the ketogenic diet less than one year.. Epilepsia. 47 (2), Pg.425-30.
  9. Bagdy.G, et-al. (2007). Serotonin and Epilepsy. Journal of Neurochemistry. 100 (4), Pg.857-873.

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