As I discussed in my previous article, the trial and error process has been and continues to be a substantial part of my journey with epilepsy. I learn as I go, stumbling and, every once in a while, falling along the way, but never staying down for long because it isn’t until I get back up that the “success” part of this process can be attained. Especially when it comes to my seizures and going beyond the symptoms to figure out the cause.
There have been so many times when I’ll go through a phase of increased seizure activity, every phase being completely out of the blue. The most frustrating part of this increased activity (apart from the seizures, of course) is always the resonating mystery of what exactly caused this surprising intensification.
In my opinion, most of us epileptics can’t help but always keep that question of “Why” in the back of our minds. If we are truly going to heal our bodies of this condition we constantly deal with on a daily basis, having an answer to this question would certainly be a helpful start! As I have pondered this question strictly for my own symptoms, the biggest revelation I have come to realize is that there are typically multiple answers to this one question. And they vary from person to person, which is also why this is such a difficult question to answer. So, if you were thinking I was just about to reveal the miracle answer, I’m very sorry to disappoint you. But, what I can do is share one of the most common contributing factors that has had quite the influence on many epileptics’ current condition, some (like me and my own first year with epilepsy) without their knowledge. If the title of this article didn’t already give the answer away, the factor I’m referring to is diet/nutrition.
It is truly astonishing the effect foods and eating habits can have on both your brain and total body health. Obviously, synthetic/processed foods and ingredients aren’t the healthiest types of products we can be pumping into our bodies on a daily basis, but what about all-natural foods? By “all-natural,” I mean something like a plant-based food, such as Rosemary (fresh or dried), which only consists of one ingredient as opposed to a processed food product, such as a Pop Tart, which is filled with numerous synthetic ingredients.
Organic or non-organic fruits, vegetables, and spices have always been advertised as perfectly healthy; therefore we never assume there could be any cause for suspicion. But, the unfortunate truth is that many all-natural food products, sans synthetic ingredients, can act as seizure triggers (a.k.a. products containing elements (synthetic, natural, or both) that can prompt seizure activity in certain people). Similar to an excitotoxin (click here to read more about excitotoxins), the seizure trigger contains an element that interacts with your body and brain in a negative manner, ultimately resulting in the occurrence of a seizure. Seizure triggers concerning fruits, veggies, and spices are no longer referring to synthetic ingredients a product might contain but rather the natural effect each tends to have as they are digested and dispersed throughout the body.
**Side Note: Seizure triggers can also be found in other types of product groups such as cosmetics, bedding, and cookware. But, ultimately, each of these groups share a common and widespread culprit existing at the heart of the cause…synthetic ingredients. What it really comes down to is the quality of the product.
In this article, I am going to discuss six all-natural products that I have recently been forced to move to the “allergic” list due to their widespread tendency to be seizure triggers for not just me, but other epileptics, as well. These products are Rosemary, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves, Tarragon, and Sage. Each of which can be found as dried spices in your typical spice rack, fresh in the produce section at the grocery store, or, if you’re into growing your own plants, in the backyard garden.
Before I dive into the full details on Rosemary, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves, Tarragon, and Sage (the six ingredients listed above), I would like to bring to light one very important bit of information I believe everyone needs to be aware of. Each person reacts differently to varying ingredients and/or products. Therefore, if something acts as a seizure trigger for me it may not for you, hence the need for use of a trial and error process when determining your own “allergic” list. I still believe it is a wise idea to consume these types of foods with caution whether or not you have a history of seizures; they are excitotoxins, after all!
Alright lets break it down! 6 common seizure triggers that may be lurking in your kitchen cabinets:
Rosemary, whether it is a whole twig plucked fresh from the plant itself, crushed into tiny flakes in a spice jar, or incorporated in the flavor of a meal, this unprocessed herb is notorious for worsening seizure activity in epileptics. Just to be safe, I avoided Rosemary like the plague after I was diagnosed with Catamenial Epilepsy. As it turns out, this extreme avoidance was actually a complete waste of time because this very common seizure trigger is one of those ingredients, as I described above, that has the opposite affect on me. It happens to be one of those cases where a “seizure trigger” doesn’t necessarily prompt seizures from every epileptic.
For those of you who enjoy eating out, be extra careful when browsing the menu because Rosemary has recently become a very trendy ingredient and can be found in a multitude of dishes across various restaurants. Be especially wary of Rosemary in Italian food and chicken dishes. If you’re attempting a new recipe and find Rosemary to be a key ingredient, don’t skip the dish! Simply substitute it with a similar ingredient, such as thyme or basil.
Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves are ingredients commonly found in the same types of foods because of their very similar flavor. In fact, these three ingredients are key in any gingerbread cookie recipe. Last November, I posted a recipe for gingerbread cookies on Seize the Day Blog because I was baking way too many of these delicious holiday treats and absolutely had to share! Interestingly enough, I was also having an increased amount of seizures during the 2015 holiday season. Coincidence? I think not. My entire family can attest to the fact that I probably ate way too many gingerbread cookies between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, which also means I ate plenty of Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves. Once I stopped eating the gingerbread cookies, my seizures immediately began to decrease and I was on my way to a stable lifestyle once again.
If you come across my Gingerbread Cookie Recipe and are living with epilepsy, I encourage you to skip the Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves and substitute each with Cinnamon instead. I have tried this before and it actually turns out quite yummy! It might sound like too much cinnamon at first, but it actually gives you the perfect flavor for your gingerbread, not too bland and not too strong. This group of ingredients is also frequently found together in many pumpkin pie recipes. It’s best if you make your pie from scratch in the comfort of your own home and, once again, substitute all of the iffy ingredients with Cinnamon. I’m currently on the hunt for a good ketchup recipe because cloves and allspice are usually found in any store bought ketchup product, but Cinnamon won’t work as a substitute in this specific case for any of the recipes I do happen across. So, if you know of any Ketchup recipes free of cloves and allspice please comment below!
Tarragon, though a good source of numerous vitamins and minerals, is very similar to Rosemary in taste, structure, and its status as a seizure trigger. This plant-like herb is used in a variety of food and medicinal products because it is filled with so many beneficial nutrients. For being such a healthy plant, I was astonished to find Tarragon on the seizure trigger list! Well, despite all of the beneficial effects this ingredient can have on people of all ages, it turns out that it also has a bit of a dark side. An unintentional dark side, of course, but a dark side nonetheless.
Consequently, while the potential for healing is a strong point for Tarragon, it would seem as though the ability to provoke seizures is, as well. Tarragon, like the other five seizure triggers I’m discussing in this article, is an excitotoxin and contains elements in its cellular makeup that excite the brain by generating too much activity in the brain’s cortex for the body to handle. Unfortunately, the result of this excitement in the brain is a seizure for everyday people and increased seizure activity for epileptics. Unfortunately, the result of this excitement in the brain is a seizure for both epileptics and non-epileptics.
Due to the negative effects this herb can have on the brain, it is completely understandable if you wish to avoid it completely. Before you can do this successfully, you should probably know that Tarragon is frequently found in salads, Italian food and a variety of sauces. Cooking without this ingredient can easily be done by replacing it with any of the following herbs or spices: dried dill, basil, marjoram, or oregano.
Lastly, we have Sage, an ingredient that tends to pop up in the most random of places. Like Rosemary, it is widely notorious for its ability to trigger seizures in epileptics and non-epileptics alike. The biggest concern for people trying to avoid this ingredient is the unfortunate fact that Sage has become a trendy herb with an ever-expanding popularity amongst gourmet chefs. After browsing recipes and eating at a variety of restaurants, I have found chicken dishes to be most often connected with this particular herb. Sauces, salad dressings, sausage, and Italian cuisine are also good to be wary of when it comes to Sage. The strong flavor of this ingredient is best substituted with marjoram or thyme.
Personally, I have made an extra effort to avoid this particular plant in all of its forms. During my extensive research, Sage has always stood out as the most common seizure trigger worldwide and for people of all ages. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes one excitotoxin more potent than the next, but my guess is that flavor plays a pretty prominent role in this case. Sage has such a strong essence in taste, smell, and, well, everything! Sage is an herb that always wants its presence to be known, even when it is traveling through the body after being digested. What a diva!
Rosemary, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves, Tarragon, and Sage…such frequently used ingredients that have managed to fly under the “seizure trigger” radar pretty successfully! Although excitotoxins can create issues for people with or without epilepsy, it seems that most of this information gets lost in translation unless it is desperately needed, such as during a health crisis. Therefore, I encourage anyone reading this article to do a little research of their own on the topic of seizure triggers. I guarantee that the full list of these foods and products is much more extensive than the six ingredients I explored in this article.
If you have questions about any of the seizure triggers I discussed, please share via Twitter and Instagram or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
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