By in Health & Fitness

Evening Primrose Oil for Epilepsy

I stopped taking anti-convulsant drugs for my epilepsy almost three years ago now. As I get older my body is changing, and these days I can often prevent seizures from happening if I reduce my stress levels and get a good amount of sleep during the times when I'm most likely to have them. I usually manage to treat the few minor seizures I do have with a little Gatorade to balance my electrolytes.

This week I've also started taking a regular supplement of evening primrose oil (EPO) to balance my hormone levels, which I'm hoping in my case will reduce the occurrence of seizures. The kind of epilepsy I have is linked to hormones, so smoothing out the peaks and valleys a bit will hopefully eliminate the few seizures I still experience these days.

Evening primrose oil is an herbal medicine that is alternately recommended for treatment of epilepsy, and claimed to lower seizure threshold or increase the incidence of seizures. That's pretty confusing! Should an epileptic like me take the chance of experimenting with EPO supplements? I decided that I'm willing to take the risk, but for others who have seizure disorders that answer will be different.

Basis for Warnings 'Spurious'

Warnings that EPO might increase seizure activity are based on two studies from the 1980s involving people with schizophrenia – a psychiatric disorder that itself is linked to higher incidence of seizure disorders. From what I can glean, the warnings are linked to increased seizures in a number of test subjects who were taking phenothiazines – drugs known to lower seizure threshold. Lower thresholds mean more frequent seizures.

A more recent publication describes the link between evening primrose oil and seizures as “spurious,” and calls for the removal of the seizure and epilepsy warnings for EPO products. Warnings persist, but to me that seems to be a matter of medical authorities wanting to limit any potential legal liability. The language of the warnings is very tentative, and some warnings simply indicate caution should be taken. That's exactly the course of action I intend to take.

Deciding to Proceed Despite Warnings

If you've read any of my other articles about herbal remedies, you'll know that I'm not one to claim that because a remedy is natural it must be 100% safe and free of all side effects. There are risks associated with a lot of herbs, and I'm usually the one to remind other writers of that fact. Taking a supplement for which a warning exists is a risk. And I will definitely stop taking EPO if I believe it's making my condition worse.

Nor would I recommend it to anyone else who has a seizure disorder. If you think it might help you, do your homework before trying it. Research the benefits and the risks. Consult your doctor, pharmacist, or a trained herbalist. Don't take the decision lightly, just because it's a natural remedy. Remember Socrates was executed by means of an herb!

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Image credit: Evening primrose by Gary Rogers/Geograph ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Disclaimer: The author is not a health expert. The information contained in this article is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a qualified health professional before making any decisions regarding your own condition.

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acrogodess914 wrote on January 14, 2015, 10:16 AM

Personally, it is my opinion that "health experts" work for the pharmaceutical business, so of course they would recommend against taking a natural supplement or using a natural treatment. It's all about the money and every time that someone makes and informed decision against using a regulated and usually expensive drug in favor of alternative medicine, they lose money.

MsBiz wrote on January 14, 2015, 10:20 AM

Very interesting, thank you for sharing. As a therapist who works with people with mental health issues, many of whom use prescription medications that cause awful side effects, I always wonder about how effective herbal remedies are. In my psychopharmacology class, we were warned that they were dangerous and to err on the side of caution, but I'm not sure natural supplements are any more dangerous than prescription drugs. Like you said, I think it needs to be a well-researched, informed decision, though.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 10:38 AM

Considering the high cost of EPO supplements and the fact that these same experts admit other benefits of EPO, I doubt it's that cut and dried.

Most doctors are cautious not to recommend herbal remedies unless they have specific experience with the remedy in question, but that's a matter of admitting they lack the expertise and not wanting to jeopardize their patients' health or their own licenses. Most won't actively make such a specific warning unless they have a real concern. There are far easier ways to discourage the use of home remedies in favour of Big Pharma, if that's the doctor's agenda.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 10:46 AM

Erring on the side of caution should be the rule of thumb, regardless of whether one is using pharmaceuticals or natural remedies. Any substance that is going to alter brain chemistry or otherwise impact on neurological or mental health should be approached with extreme caution.

You say you're a therapist, and not a psychiatrist. So it sounds to me like you wouldn't be prescribing medication anyway. I'm assuming the point of having a psychopharmacology class included in your training was to develop a cursory familiarity with drugs your clients could be taking.

Considering the harsh side effects of many psychoactive drugs and the fact that many psychiatric patients prefer to self-medicate rather than to take prescribed drugs, a grounding in specific herbal remedies would be much more helpful than simply telling students all herbs are dangerous. We can only hope that in future, the curriculum will be updated to reflect the reality of your profession, or that an additional course in alternative therapies for mental illness will be offered to complement the pharmacology class.

MsBiz wrote on January 14, 2015, 11:01 AM

You're correct; my training is in psychology rather than psychiatry. That said, we do talk to patients about medication options. This is usually in the context of a patient who probably needs medications but maybe apprehensive about what to expect. Likewise, we sometimes have patients come to us who've been prescribed a medication by a psychiatrist who didn't fully explain what it does. Another words, where they are to be an informed source of information about medications.

I definitely agree that it's always best to err on the side of caution. The scary thing is, it seems that people are more apprehensive about natural remedies them they are prescription drugs. Although herbal remedies can undoubtedly be powerful medications, it seems like doctors handout addictive medications like benzodiazepines like candy.

Really, we do need to start to shift our thinking on herbal medications and make sure that we have some better, up-to-date research that either proves their efficacy or debunks it. You can never have too much information or research.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 11:33 AM

Stress has long been recognized as a trigger for seizures. There are lots of others - including lack of sleep, skipping meals, or getting sick with something else like a cold or the flu. Sometimes seizure control can be really tricky. I'm glad to hear your friend is doing better now emoticon :smile:

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 11:43 AM

Research with herbal medicines is very tricky. If people are preparing remedies from fresh or preserved plant sources, the active ingredients are not standardized. When the trials are based on a specific standardized supplement, of course we run into all the usual issues around conflicts of interest and companies attempting to suppress certain information for financial reasons.

I do think that we need more research, but as time goes by I'm beginning to place more value in trusting the data we've inherited from generations of herbalists. Research to back up the claims could very well be the icing on the cake but I am concerned that the more research is carried out, the more expensive herbal supplements will become. As with anything beneficial, there are always drawbacks too.

Feisty56 wrote on January 14, 2015, 12:30 PM

I can see you've researched this and thought it through. I hope it turns out that the evening primrose oil provides the hormonal balance your body needs to halt the seizure activity altogether.

happynutritionist wrote on January 14, 2015, 1:52 PM

My Dad was an epileptic and took meds all of his life. I'm glad to hear you know how to control yours. You know that you should avoid Sage, don't you? You may want to search online to verify, but I do believe it's Sage.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 3:19 PM

I hope so too, Deb! It would be a relief to just not have to deal with them anymore...

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 3:21 PM

There's actually a very long list of herbs to avoid - mostly in the form of essential oils, or in larger medicinal doses rather than in smaller amounts you might use to season food. Sage is definitely one of the herbs to be avoided in large doses, but I've never reacted to it personally, that I know of.

VinceSummers wrote on January 14, 2015, 5:08 PM

Really, evening primrose? That's interesting. I wonder what chemical constituent is given the credit? I have a friend or 3 who have epilepsy. One was kicked in the head at age 9 by a horse. One or two were apparently born with the condition.

scheng1 wrote on January 15, 2015, 9:04 AM

If a good rest helps, I think you are better off adjusting your life so that you have more time to sleep.

mrsmerlin wrote on January 15, 2015, 5:12 PM

I prefer to treat things naturally where I can, I believe there is a cure for everything on the planet we just have to find it.

BodieMor wrote on January 22, 2015, 2:17 AM

You have such a great attitude regarding your condition and how you manage it. I wish you well!