Alright ladies, I know we try very hard to deny it, but it’s time to embrace the ugly truth…we are hormonal, all the time.
So when your husband called your reaction to his words the other day “very emotional and irrational” he was probably more on point than you’d care to admit. The fact of the matter is, our hormone fluctuation has more highs and lows than your average roller coaster.
So what does this have to do with Catamenial Epilepsy?? Well, this particular condition is emphasized as a gender-specific type of epilepsy due to the seizure patterns that typically occur around a woman’s period, but there is never any elaboration on WHY these seizures are happening at this particular time. The majority of women aren’t having seizures during those 7 days that make up their periods so what makes those of us with Catamenial Epilepsy so different??
Whenever a woman notices a correlation between her menstrual cycle and her seizures my first piece of advice is to get lab work done to explore her hormone levels. Particularly her progesterone and estrogen levels because a hormone deficiency most likely exists. I prefer the OATS lab test because it gives an incredibly thorough examination of your hormones, vitamins, and minerals. You can order this lab work through Dr. Jocker’s by visiting the following link:
Progesterone is known to be the calming hormone while estrogen is known to be the excitable hormone. When balanced, the menstrual cycle works just fine. The two hormones keep each other in check when there are healthy levels of each present in the human body. Our main concern is with the outcome of imbalanced hormone levels. Particularly too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. When there is not enough progesterone present to keep the effects of the estrogen in check, a build up of excitable energy begins to collect inside the brain. The brain knows it needs to get rid of this stored energy, but the conventional methods aren’t an option due to the lack of progesterone. So, instead the energy is released in short, but hurried waves of activity or what is clinically known as a seizure.
If an EEG is administered on the average person with perfectly normal brain activity, you will receive a horizontal recording of a wave-like line across a piece of paper. The existence of activity, but at a calm and consistent pace. When an EEG is done on someone during a seizure, you will see a wave-like line, however, it will be interrupted by sharp and hurried lines. These lines look very similar to the lines you see on a heart monitor machine. Each time the heart beats it sends a pulse of energy through the body, a pulse that is recorded by the heart monitor. Once again, this is a jolt of energy just as seen on an EEG reading during a seizure. Those sharp lines marking the beat of the heart pumping blood throughout the body are a sign of necessary energy where as the readings on the EEG are evidence of built-up excited energy.
The energy is not being released in smooth, consistent patterns instead it is accompanied by unexpected bursts that occur depending on how quickly the excitable energy is being transferred to the brain. For some women, this may be only during those 7 days of bleeding. Or it may be more often. This is completely dependent on the individual. However, the four phases that make up this 28 day cycle mean that our hormones are constantly shifting before and after our period. This is also why it is not uncommon for some women with Catamenial Epilepsy to experience more seizures during the estrogen peak time, which is during those first fifteen days of the cycle. This is the phase of ovulation.
“Steroid hormones such as estrogen and progesterone circulate throughout the brain and have been shown to have effects of neuronal excitability. Estrogen has been shown to increase seizures, whereas progesterone has anti-seizure effects. Hence, imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels might lead to seizures.” (Epilepsy Foundation).
I am providing this brief history because it is important to understand and acknowledge this connection before you can truly begin to find a solution. Solutions for Catamenial Epileptics may be limited, but you still want to be aware of the entire situation at hand before making any drastic or life-changing choices.
Catamenial Epilepsy as defined by the Epilepsy Foundation is “a gender-specific type of epilepsy in which seizure frequency intensifies during certain phases of the menstrual cycle. An increase in seizures in parallel with the menstrual cycle in some women with epilepsy has been noticed since ancient times.”
It is also mentioned that “traditionally used anti-epileptic drugs typically do not have an effect on seizures in Catamenial epilepsy” (epilepsy foundation).
So basically, women suffering from Catamenial Epilepsy have quite the problematic condition, but they are left empty-handed where solutions are concerned. Too often, medical professionals fail to mention the underlying causes of seizure activity during a hormonal time of the month. The key word here is hormonal. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite popular belief, those 7 days comprising a period are NOT the only peak in hormones we females experience each month. Those 7 days are simply a facet to a hormonal cycle that, if on track, lasts 28 days every single month.
There are four phases that comprise this 28 day cycle of menstruation and each can have quite the effect on the human body. Menstrual phase (bleeding), Follicular phase (ovary is getting ready to release an egg), Ovulatory phase (egg is released), Luteal phase (time between egg’s release and the start of menstruation).
These days, the majority of women do not have a completely normal 28 day cycle. This is because of our constant exposure to synthetic hormones in our daily lives. These can come from the foods we eat, the beauty products we use, and even the environment.
Processed foods are filled with synthetic hormones, dominantly estrogenic ingredients, that wreak havoc on our body’s natural ability to produce and process estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, serotonin, norepinephrine, and Vitamin D.
Fun Fact: Vitamin D is called a vitamin but it behaves more like a hormone because of the way it is received and processed by our bodies.
These synthetic hormones are often known as Phyto-Estrogens and Xeno-Estrogens. And they can dominate your body if you are exposed too many times. The thing about these synthetic hormones is that the human body does not know how to digest these ingredients because they are not real food ingredients. They are chemical compounds created in a lab, therefore your body places these into a sort of “Unable to Process” category. The problem with this category is that it is like the “in-between” inside the human body. Since the body cannot process them, they are also not being detoxified from the body. Instead, these ingredients just sit there inside your body until they are absorbed into your cells. Once absorbed into your cells, it can take years before the synthetic hormones are actually carried out of the human body. If you are consistently exposed, which the majority of us are, then that stash of built-up synthetic hormones becomes a collection and before you know it the rest of your body is slowly crumbling from the toxic exposure.
These synthetic hormones will actually interrupt your body’s natural ability to produce the proper amount of all of your key hormones. This is when the real problems begin. This is when we face the start of hormone imbalances and in extreme cases, hormone-related seizures.
For those of you battling Catamenial Epilepsy, I’m sure the majority of you have sought real solutions that will target a hormone balance.
Have you ever been recommended to try birth control as a means to balance your hormones???
In most cases, birth control does come up as an option. However, the tough question is should you try it? And, if you do try it, will it actually work? Will this successfully contain your seizures? Based upon my own personal experience with birth control, my answer to each of these questions is a resounding NO.
For starters, each birth control pill is like a tiny hormone grenade waiting to explode inside your system. And the shrapnel that is leftover from this explosion is an absolute mess to clean up! Realistically, it is the exact type of thing every Catamenial Epileptic should avoid! Synthetic hormones will not balance your hormones they will only further prevent your body from producing these hormones naturally.
Birth control comes in two forms…a progesterone base or an estrogen base. Both are completely synthetic and both are only more inflammatory. In my case, I suffer from a severe hormone imbalance where my body has too much estrogen and too little progesterone. The even scarier thing is that in addition to the imbalance, I’m deficient in both hormones, my levels in each are dangerously low. However, despite not having healthy levels of estrogen I still have more estrogen in my body than I do progesterone. And here we see the problem of too much excitable hormone and not enough calming hormone to keep my menstrual cycle balanced. Birth control cannot offer you a healthy balance of hormones, it can only fan the flames of an existing fire. It further deepens the extent of your hormone imbalance.
Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of this fact when I was sixteen. I was so young at this point in time, so I wasn’t aware of all of the available options for possible solutions. I sat in a hospital waiting room at the Mayo Clinic every day for seven days with complete faith in the doctors I had evaluating my case of Catamenial Epilepsy. A gynecologist was brought on to examine the undeniable hormonal connection with my seizure activity. It was my first time visiting a gynecologist so I had no idea what to expect, but what I didn’t see coming was a pregnancy accusation. She purposely met with me without my parents present because she was absolutely certain I was pregnant and that was the explanation for my hormone related seizures.
Despite my protests, she would not put any stock into my words until a quick examination was done along with a sonogram. The absence of a fetus and the evidence of my virginity shut her accusations down real quick. But I wish I would have realized at this point that my gynecologist wasn’t there to listen to my take on my current circumstances. She wasn’t there to help me. Frankly, I think she was just there for a paycheck and at the end of my visit to the Mayo Clinic she only worsened my circumstances.
Her medical advice was birth control. It wasn’t my first choice solution, but I was desperate and out of options. It was clear that my hormones were severely imbalanced and she seemed to think the birth control would “solve” this issue for me. It was only after I began the birth control that I realized she prescribed me an estrogen based pill.
After 7 days of constant hormone evaluation, evaluation that explored in great depth my Progesterone DEFICIENCY and Estrogen dominance, the gynecologist still prescribed me a birth control that would only increase my estrogen levels. I wouldn’t trust any birth control to solve a hormone imbalance, but the least she could have done was prescribe me a progesterone based birth control pill.
I had hoped to leave the Mayo Clinic with a newfound hope for the future, maybe even a real solution to my problem. Instead I left with an official diagnosis of “Catamenial Epilepsy” instead of simply “Epilepsy” and birth control. Something I already knew and didn’t need the Mayo Clinic to confirm and something I didn’t even want. When did life become so complicated? That plane ride home was only scratching the surface of complicated.
Upon my return, I began implementing the birth control into my daily regimen. Up until this point, I had previously had only 3 gran Mal seizures over the course of one year. Once I began the birth control, my seizure activity skyrocketed. I went from 3 seizures in 365 days to 14 seizures in 7 days.
I had only just finished my first year with epilepsy so to experience such a drastic increase was completely overwhelming for both my family and I. Eight of those 14 seizures happened in one night, an event that actually landed me in the back of an ambulance. Anyone with epilepsy knows that one gran Mal seizure is enough to steal all of your energy and turn you into a couch potato. So the eight consecutive seizures left me completely unconscious.
The worst part for my family was the realization that 9-1-1 was necessary to bring my body to a stable state. Hence, the need for the paramedics who could give me a quick shot of phenytoin to calm my brain down and then 1000 mg more when I got to the hospital. Over the next week, I continued to experience an increase in my activity and had 6 more gran mals before I finally decided to stop the birth control.
In total, I was on the birth control for two weeks. During those two weeks, I experienced an increase in my estrogen levels and saw zero improvement where my hormone imbalance was concerned. I actually needed immediate progesterone supplementation to try and heal the damage done by the birth control.
My warning against birth control is not done so randomly or with a biased outlook on the product. I made the mistake of giving birth control a chance…I took a leap of faith on the wrong product. Today, I constantly wonder about the true extent of the damage that was done, but I will never know just how much damage was done because I cannot undo my actions that day at the Mayo Clinic. I do not know exactly how different my life would be today if I chose a holistic solution from the very beginning, but my success with holistic medicine has taught me one thing…the damage from conventional medicine solutions like birth control is probably greater than I realize.
So, when I warn others about the risks of birth control I do not do it lightly. Someone considering birth control needs to realize one very important fact…there are other ways to alter hormone levels. One in particular is Wild Yam. This is my go-to method for healing hormone imbalances and supplementing progesterone. It comes in both a liquid form and a capsule, I prefer the liquid form because supplements are most easily absorbed under the tongue. The best part about this natural supplement is that it has the exact opposite long-term effect of birth control. Instead of hindering your body’s ability to produce hormones naturally, Wild Yam acts as a support for this production. Consuming this product will actually help your system to process the proper amounts of hormones so that balance can be maintained.
I like the Wild Yam by Herb Pharm, which you can find here. If you would like something else, Google has lots of options as well!
This is yet another reason why it is such an amazing option for progesterone supplementation. You aren’t actually pumping hormones into your body like you would with other hormone supplements such as Progesterone liquid drops. You are consuming a vegetable that simply promotes natural hormone production. No interruption, no synthetics.
At the end of the day, what you need most is proper production so that you can rest assured that your body is producing the correct amount of every hormone in your body. Only then will you be able to maintain balance.
What no doctor ever tells you at your diagnosis of Catamenial Epilepsy is just how challenging your hormones can be to change. If you’re estrogen dominant like me, the doctors will also fail to mention just how drastic a simple rise in the estrogen hormone can be. It must be done with great care and an abundance of patience. It is challenging, but it is not impossible if you choose a method that supports your body’s natural production of hormones.
Birth control has proven to be successful for some women so even though it did not work for me as a solution for Catamenial Epilepsy, maybe it might work for others. Just be sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your daily regimen. Be sure to keep in mind that there are multiple methods for treating hormone imbalances.
If you would like to read more about some these other methods here on Seize the Day Blog you can do so by reading any of the following articles below:
Epilepsy Foundation: https://www.epilepsy.com/article/2016/10/basics-about-catamenial-epilepsy
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