Health

Taking Control of Epilepsy
review by Jule Motter


Treating Epilepsy Naturally by Patricia A. Murphy Keats Publishing (a division of McGraw Hill), Two Penn Plaza, New York, New York 10121 USA Softbound, ISBN 0 658 01379 3, c. 2002, pp. 322, $16.95

Shortly before her 21st birthday, Patricia A. Murphy had her first grand mal (tonic clonic) epileptic seizure. All of the brain neurons had discharged at the same time, and she lost consciousness. During tonic clonic seizures, the body becomes rigid, then the muscles begin to jerk and twitch. When the young woman regained consciousness, she was disoriented. She also felt guilt and shame for having a disorder that made her lose control in such a dramatic way.

For the next six years, Ms. Murphy took dilantin and phenobarbitol, standard. medications to control epilepsy. During that time, she had only three seizures, but the daily cost in side effects included coordination and memory difficulties and grogginess. Then, convinced that her inability to lose weight was due to an under active thyroid, Ms. Murphy went to a holistic health center. Th her discomfort, she was told that her diet high in sugar, white flour, and preservatives was the problem. As she gradually removed sugar and white flour from her diet, she noticed a change in how she felt. She began to do yoga and ride her bike to work. In time, her holistic physician took her off phenobarbitol and prescribed herbal tinctures of skullcap and goldenseal. Although she had more seizures, most of which occurred while she slept, she felt more in control of her body and her life. This shift in perception and the knowledge that she gained during her own healingjourney and as the editor of the Epilepsy Wellness Newsletter, led Patricia Murphy to write Treating Epilepsy Naturally. Her book describes various types of epilepsy, the condition~s physical and psycho social effects on those who have it and their families, and conventional and alternative/adjunctive therapies.

Epilepsy, a seizure disorder, is a chronic, pathological condition marked by "sudden disturbances in the brain's electrical function." Not all epileptic seizures are as dramatic as the grand mal. Absence seizures involve a simple loss of awareness (blank spells) with staring, blinking, and/or slight twitching. Other seizures may be accompanied by confusion, muscle spasms, sudden falls, uncontrolled body movements, or loss of consciousness. Several factors can trigger seizures. Catamenial seizures have been linked to the hormone fluctuations that occur before or during a woman's period. Stress, low blood sugar, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, flickering lights or pattern sensitivity, alcoholism, drugs, chemical exposure, and brain tissue left scarred by high fever, injury, or tumor can also trigger seizures. Hypoxia (insufficient oxygen), often caused by disordered breathing, is common among people with epilepsy.

A few years after she began working with diet and supplements, Ms. Murphy took part in a biofeedback experiment for people with idiopathic epilepsy. The research was supervised by Robert Fried, PhD and Richard Carlton, MD at New York City's International Center for the Disabled.

Dr. Fried and colleagues viewed epileptic seizures as the body's "attempt to correct the effect of stress on individuals in their blood biochemistry .... a last ditch effort to regain physiological balance...." The researchers focused on "the way in which blood carries oxygen in the brain" rather than on the neurological component. To that end, they taught the study's participants breathing techniques using biofeedback. In addition to changing her blood chemistry via diet, Ms. Murphy learned to change her blood chemistry by breathing deeply into the abdomen. As more oxygen reached her brain, she experieinced alpha (relaxed, alert) brainwaves. Her seizures decreased. Other researchers have found that biofeedback training actually teach some people with complex partial epilepsy +d control their seizures.

In addition to explaining the different types of epilep4 and triggering factors, Treating Epilepsy Naturally descri Pes various treatments (including pharmaceuticals). One section in the book delves into nutrition, including a chapter orx'the ketogenic diet developed at the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University over 70 years ago. Although researchers do not yet understand why the high fat ketogenic diet prevents seizures, it is effective with many children who do not respond to medication. Another section includes information on biofeedback and other means for controlling brain waves, body therapies, and ways to reduce stress, such..as exercise. Ms. Murphy says that "[olverall fitness and a feeling of well being have been shown to help reduce seizure frequency in children and adults."

7~ eating Epilepsy Naturally also pays considerable attention to the special concerns of those who have epilepsy. "Having or witnessing a seizure makes a lasting impression on our minds, consciously and unconsciously," the author states. Ms. Murphy does an excellent job of giving an inside view of the shame, guilt, and fears that people with epilepsy face: "The possibility of unpredictable seizures, worries about the reactions of other people, possible lifestyle limitations, and economic hardships often experienced by people with epilepsy compound the stressful nature ofthe disorder." She really made me appreciate the many ways that this condition can affect a person's life. Her book includes many helpful suggestions for creating supportive environments at home, work, and with health care professionals.

Reating Epilepsy Naturally offers a truly holistic view of this disorder and empowers people with epilepsy to take control. Early in the book, Ms. Murphy says: "My perception of epilepsy slowly changed from it being a burden into being a bodily condition I could integrate and control by my decision." Treating Epilepsy Naturally invites readers to make the same change in their perception of this condition.

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