After posting “6 Common Seizure Triggers That May Be Lurking in Your Kitchen Cabinets,” I have received an abundance of requests for another article on the subject of seizure triggers. Seeing as though the majority of doctors fail to mention the possibility of all-natural food or lifestyle products acting as sources of seizure activity, I thought it would be incredibly appropriate and relatable for epileptics everywhere.
I can still remember when I was first diagnosed with epilepsy and the fear I had of the future while I sat in the doctor’s office. Epilepsy is a serious condition to be diagnosed with, but I think the majority of my fear stemmed from a lack of knowledge on the subject of seizures. My parents and I had so many questions, but it was clear that the only answer my neurologist was willing to give me as he herded patients in and out of his office like cattle was, “Go live your life.”
Hmm…umm yeah that’s what I’m trying to do if you would just tell me how! Anyone with a medical condition knows that this simple statement is easier said than done. If you’re also struggling with epilepsy, it is probably best to know what you’re up against and how to protect yourself if or when these encounters with seizure triggers occur.
In my first article, I discussed herbs and spices such as Rosemary, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves, Tarragon, and Sage. With this next article, I would like to bypass the spice rack and address three products that have become increasingly popular in today’s society instead. In all honesty, each of these three products has become much too popular in the everyday diet of the majority of people.
It may come as a bit of a shock, but the products I am referring to are Caffeine, Alcohol, and Processed Sugar. Nowadays, the danger isn’t just lurking in your kitchen cabinets, it exists in every coffee shop you visit, every restaurant you eat at, any bar or club you go to, and in every establishment offering dessert products.
With the popularity of all three of these products in the daily lives of the majority of people, my question for every neurologist is “How can you not inform epileptics of the potential excitotoxic effect these products tend to have on the brain and the dangers that occur when they’re mixed with anti-epileptic medication?” I am yet to receive an answer to this question. Unfortunately, when I first began my journey with epilepsy, I had to find out about seizure triggers through yet another process of trial and error. Personal experience is the best experience and most educational, but at 16 years old, having a seizure in the middle of a crowded restaurant due to an excitotoxin/seizure trigger is traumatic and (even though I’m pretty out of it due to the seizure) embarrassing. My hope for all of my readers also living with epilepsy is that this article saves each of you from unnecessary seizure activity.
Excitotoxins are literally everywhere in our environment…the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the products we use on a daily basis. Dump addictive stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and processed sugar and do your entire body a huge favor, calm down! To learn more about excitotoxins in everyday products and how to avoid them, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my mini-series on Petroleum.
It is clear that caffeine, alcohol, and processed sugar aren’t exactly beneficial products for the human body, in general. But, do you know the risks that exist for an epileptic when s/he is exposed to these products??? Regardless of your answer to this question, read on to learn more about the prevalent dirty little secret each of these products possess.
Caffeine: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “caffeine”? Probably, coffee, right? This does seem to be the most popular caffeinated product on the market at this point in time, but caffeine is actually found in a large variety of foods and beverages. Coffee, chocolate, green tea, black tea, soda, even juice are just a few of the products that can contain caffeine.
Did you know that caffeine interacts very poorly with the majority of anti-epileptic prescription medications? Most people are unaware of this fact because it is listed at the very end of the “Warnings” list provided by the pharmacy. You know, the very thick packet that comes with your medication, but more often than not ends up in the trash without ever being read. Who knew it was actually informative? This is why neurologists should inform epileptics of these types of issues! Consuming caffeinated products while taking prescription anti-epileptic medications can cause anaphylaxis reactions. It depends on the person and their level of tolerance, but the reaction can be as minor as difficulty swallowing or as extreme as a closed throat.
I actually experienced this effect firsthand when I ate a chocolate cupcake (maybe 3, if I’m being completely honest) and my throat swelled up a bit, making it difficult for me to swallow. After doing some research and talking to a family friend with epilepsy, I learned that this is a common reaction for anyone on anti-seizure meds. It would have been nice if my neurologist had informed me of this apparently common-knowledge fact, but that would mean he’s actually being helpful and I’m pretty sure that is impossible for this neurologist, in particular.
I make it a priority in my daily routine to avoid coffee, chocolate, caffeinated teas, etc. If you are living with epilepsy, caffeine is a great ingredient to avoid completely.
Alcohol: Whether you think of wine, beer, cocktails, or hard liquor, this product in particular does not mix well with prescription medications of any kind nor does it have the most beneficial effect on your long-term brain health. The main problem alcohol poses for the majority of people is that strange inclination for the product no matter what form it may be in. I can think of a number of people who would say that this particular product makes or breaks a Friday night. But, the fact of the matter is, alcohol is NOT a prerequisite nor is it a primary requirement in order for an evening to be classified as “fun.” Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is more of a recipe for disaster than it is a recipe for fun.
Whatever happened to ordering water, tea, lemonade, or some other non-alcoholic drink? Let me just say what most other people will not these days…it is perfectly acceptable to order a non-alcoholic beverage. Worried about being “un-cool” in the eyes of your peers? Well, if you are epileptic, I would think having a seizure in the middle of a restaurant is much more un-cool than ordering an iced water. And I would know, because it has happened a number of times. If you are truly concerned about your brain health, you need to stop worrying about peer pressure and start considering the long-term effect it could be having on your body.
Alcohol is an excitotoxin; therefore your brain activity is going to be altered whenever you drink an alcoholic beverage. It’s the way alcohol has and always will affect the brain. I guess you could say that seizure activity is inevitable when you consume this product. Not to mention, the main side effect of your anti-seizure meds when mixed with alcohol is increased seizure activity. Basically, alcohol defeats the purpose of your medication altogether. If you want to decrease your seizure activity, skip the alcohol.
Processed Sugar: The ingredient that is found in practically every processed food product on supermarket shelves these days. I specified processed sugar because unrefined organic sugar is actually very beneficial for your body and your brain when consumed in moderation. A good amount of sugar will also help to chelate heavy metals from your cells and body tissue.
Processed sugar, on the other hand, is derived from synthetic sources and also acts as an excitotoxin in children and adults. Processed sugar is found in the majority of snack food and beverage ingredient labels under code-names such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, carrageenan, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Remember those days as a kid when your parents would limit your daily sugar intake to prevent a sugar rush? Well that sugar rush still poses a valid threat to your brain health. Those bursts of energy created by the sugar-y products in your brain are exactly what we’re trying to avoid on a daily basis if we’re ever going to achieve stable brain activity. In fact, it is these random “bursts” that make processed sugar such a threatening excitotoxin. It is best to completely avoid processed and artificial sugars because, like caffeine and alcohol, this product will also increase seizure activity.
This is why I have found it best to completely avoid all processed food products. If I’m eating something with sugar, you can guarantee it is unrefined and I made the food entirely from scratch in my own kitchen. I figure, why take the risk with processed foods when I can know exactly which ingredients were used in the recipe I prepared myself?
Like I mentioned in the introduction, these are not easily avoided ingredients in the average person’s daily routine. With coffee shops on every corner and full bars in nearly every restaurant it is almost impossible to avoid these products completely. This means you will still be faced with the temptation to choose caffeine, alcohol, and processed sugar. This decision is yours to make, however, just remember that it is what you do with these moments of temptation that determine what kind of brain health you are ultimately striving for. When life hands you lemons (or caffeine, alcohol & sugar) I hope you choose the option that is best for your overall long-term health; in other words I hope you choose lemonade. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
With summer only a few short weeks away, homemade Snickerdoodles have become a very popular snack in my house. You can never go wrong with that perfect mix of cinnamon and sugar. Keep an eye out for my own personal recipe on the blog very soon!
My own personal experience was used entirely as the source for this particular article. If you have any further questions regarding this subject, feel free to email me at Katie@seizethedayblog.com. Please remember that I am not a medical professional, therefore, my answers should be viewed as my own personal opinion on the matter not actual medicinal advice. Please consult a doctor before making any changes to your daily routine. Thank you for understanding.
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