Astonishingly, epilepsy and other neurological disorders can be triggered by problems emanating from the digestive system.
And a brand new case we’ve been working on shows just how this can happen.
Based on some simple dietary changes, Dr. James Walker and I have just witnessed the complete remission of epileptic seizures in a two-year old patient.
The result has stumped neurologists at one of the U.K.’s leading paediatric hospitals, where the neurologists “poo-pooed” the idea that diet could have any effect, let along a positive one.
It’s all to do with inflammation in the gut caused by foods and bad bugs.
Sadly, I know all about epilepsy
This case is particularly important for me because epilepsy is close to my heart.
Around the age of 50, my mum developed epilepsy when she passed through menopause.
Her seizures began without warning and, believe me, they were not pleasant to witness.
Her eyes would roll back into her head and she’d convulse as though she was possessed by an evil spirit.
She’d make noises that you wouldn’t even believe could come from a human being (let alone your own mum).
It was like a horror movie, but worse.
She’d bite her tongue and gums and end up with a horribly bloody mouth.
Then, she’d come round and not remember any of it – it was like nothing had happened, except her mouth hurt.
We knew the seizures themselves would pass, but we wouldn’t know when the next one would strike.
Imagine the stress this caused my Dad –
“Would mum have a seizure at the top of the stairs?”
“Would she fall over and bang her head?”
Worst of all, mum’s seizures really dented her self-confidence and independence.
She had to stop driving and riding her horse. It was the inability to ride that upset here the most, as horses and horse riding were her passions.
She found it very difficult to accept the inevitability of such an altered quality of life, which led to problems with self-confidence and, dare I say, a loss of identity.
All in all, it was a difficult situation, as you might imagine.
I am certain that mum’s loss of identity caused a downward spiral in health that ultimately led to her passing, aged only 60.
I’m not telling you all this to gain sympathy. Rather, I’m just setting the context for our case study, which we’ll now look at
(name changed to protect the family’s privacy)
Write the intro here…
Neurologists had prescribed several medications, but none of them had been able to bring the seizures under control.
He’d had fruitless genetic testing and the medical system had all but run out of ideas of how to help.
The technical name for epilepsy cases where none of the standard medications offer assistance is “refractory epilepsy”.
Bobby was facing a lifetime of epileptic seizures, with no current medication able to control them.
Could functional medicine UK help?
There are numerous case reports detailing how patients have overcome refractory epilepsy by using dietary therapy and functional medicine.
Some of these are published in the medical literature.
Unfortunately, even the published case reports are largely ignored by the majority neurologists working in the medical system.
My clinic partner, Dr. James Walker, even sent some of these case reports to Bobby’s neurologist, but the information.
Unfortunately, the response was rather condescending, which we sort of expected.
As you may have experienced yourself, some medical professionals don’t like being challenged.
Enter functional medicine
The family had been backed into a tricky situation: Western medicine couldn’t find an answer.
Thankfully, as a friend of the family, Dr. Walker persuaded Bobby’s parents to come in for a consultation and to run some functional lab tests.
Because all other avenues had been exhausted, the family agreed to do some non-invasive testing using simple stool and urine samples.
Our goal was to find clues that might just explain why Bobby’s seizures had been triggered.
What do we know about epilepsy triggers?
Off the top of my head, we knew epilepsy has been linked to these possible triggers:
- Gluten consumption / coeliac disease
- Ammonia toxicity (bacterial imbalances, nutrient deficiencies and possible genetic issues)
- Vitamin B6 deficiency
- Mineral / electrolyte deficiency (calcium, sodium, potassium)
Because Bobby was passing foul-smelling, toxic stools, we wondered whether functional medicine tests might reveal some clues.
Bobby’s GI-MAP stool test result
Bobby’s dad had told us that Bobby’s bowel movements had a foul odour, which is always a clue that something might be going on in the gut.
The stool test revealed two important pieces of information, which you can see in the snippets, below.
First, we see a Giardia infection and the overgrowth of Klebsiella bacteria.
Giardia is a parasite that can cause digestive symptoms and also prevent proper nutrient absorption.
Klebsiella can overgrow and produce immune responses in humans, which are able to trigger a variety of symptoms outside the GI tract (including arthritis, interestingly enough).
Second, we detected a lot of intestinal inflammation.
Calprotectin is a protein that goes up when inflammation levels are high, and secretory IgA is also extremely high, indicating an active intestinal immune response.
Although it doesn’t appear too high on this test, Bobby’s anti-gliadin IgA was slightly elevated.
This marker tells us about the possibility of gluten sensitivity.
Even though it is not high by the lab’s reference range/standard, the fact we know his intestine is inflamed was interesting.
Because gluten is associated with epilepsy in some people, we figured this could be a highly significant clinical finding.
It’s important to note here that we’re not just going by the numbers on the test here – this would be a disservice to our patient.
Instead, we’re correlating lab data with health history, scientific literature, and symptoms, in order to find clues as to what we might be going on.
Just using lab data to guide decisions is basically akin to treating someone like a robot. Unfortunately this is how the medical system works these days.
Human beings are not simply numbers on a piece of paper, and it is important to make sure all data – objective and subjective – are gathered and used.
Bobby’s Organic Acids Test
An organic acids test uses a single urine sample to test for more than 70 different chemicals.
These chemicals rise and fall as a result of imbalances in the body.
For example, a Candida overgrowth in the GI tract will leave a “chemical footprint” that’s detectable in the urine.
A vitamin deficiency might result in the accumulation of a chemical in the urine due to a blocked pathway.
Digestive function, energy production, detoxification, B-vitamin levels, neurotransmitter metabolism, inflammation and other factors are all represented in this simple home test.
The snippets below show big elevations in markers 6 and 7, which indicate intestinal Candida overgrowth.
Markers 12, 13 and 14 are also elevated, indicating intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Then, we see number 53 is very high, which can indicate a vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency.
B2 is a critically important nutrient, with deficiencies potentially contributing to a whole raft of different symptoms, including ammonia detoxification (see next section).
And finally, we see a strong elevation in Bobby’s detoxification markers relating to glutathione production and, perhaps importantly, ammonia toxicity.
Because we know that ammonia can trigger epilepsy, marker number 60 could well be very important.
Elevated orotic acid in the urine can indicate that ammonia detoxification pathways are not functioning correctly.
High ammonia due to this problem with detoxification may trigger seizures in some people.
Bacterial overgrowth and/or B2 deficiency could be contributing to this situation.
Bobby’s seizures from a functional medicine perspective
While all of this might seem complicated, in actuality, the testing gave us a handful of simple action steps that could make all the difference.
In order of priority, they were:
- Gluten sensitivity triggering neurological problems and potentially causing Bobby’s seizures (action step: gluten-free diet).
- “Bad bug” overgrowth/infection in the GI tract – Giardia parasites, Candida and bacterial dysbiosis (action step – restore microbial balance and support digestion)
- Ammonia toxicity, possibly being caused by the gut bugs, but also by poor detoxification and B2 deficiency
Setting the seizures aside
Even if the lab findings were not contributing to Bobby’s epilepsy, it was important to address them.
The digestive issues we detected, in particular, could stunt his growth and development.
The medical literature clearly shows that Giardia infections have the ability to inhibit childrens’ development by blocking nutrient absorption.
Gluten sensitivity can also cause major developmental problems in children.
Our functional medicine hypothesis and recommendations
Dr. Walker and I both had a hunch that Bobby’s digestive issues could be contributing to the seizures.
Even though Bobby’s stool test did not really show a high level of anti-gliadin IgA to indicate gluten sensitivity, we initially recommended a gluten-free diet.
We did this because a) it’s an inexpensive initial step and b) we know that gluten can be a hidden epilepsy trigger, and that the lab test is not always 100% accurate.
This initial step needed a little coordination and cooperation from Bobby’s playschool.
James and I didn’t want to place undue pressure on the family – or on Bobby – so we didn’t suggest adding any supplements or other steps until the gluten-free diet had been implemented.
The family and school did a great job and Bobby was gluten-free in no time at all.
And that’s it.
“What”, I hear you cry? “How can that be it?”
A gluten-free diet can dramatically improve epilepsy in some people
Incredibly, after just a few days on the gluten-free diet, Bobby’s mum reported that he’d “Gone from 8 jerks 10x daily to 1 jerk 4x daily.”
Then, after a few more days, she reported that Bobby had gone for two full days without a single seizure.
At the time of writing, Bobby is still completely free from seizures.
We cannot say his epilepsy is cured by any means (not until he is off all medication and remains seizure free for an appreciable amount of time, and his EEG and scans are completely normal).
It goes without saying that this news warmed our hearts and I dare say there may have been a tear shed, not only for Bobby’s result, but also for my mum.
Bobby’s case is not isolated – in this excellent Dr. David Perlmutter video, we see two similar cases where patients’ epilepsy improved dramatically when they moved to a gluten-free diet.
Digestive cleansing protocol
Because Bobby is still taking anti-epilepsy medications, we had to be very careful not to recommend any herbs or additional medications that may interact.
This is where having an experienced medical doctor such as James on the team is so helpful, as he is able to quickly determine which products are safe, and which ones might be problematic.
Dr. Walker was able to prescribe antibiotics for Bobby’s Giardia infection, and we’ve implemented a basic herbal protocol to reduce the burden of Candida and bacteria in Bobby’s digestive tract and minimise toxicity, which is ongoing.
So far the results are positive: not only are Bobby’s seizures still in remission, but he’s also communicating and interacting more openly with his parents.
Sometimes, the answer is simpler than you might think
We live in a time where medical technology is the best it’s ever been.
Yet we rely too much on this technology and forget about common sense.
In some cases, the answer to seemingly complex diseases and disorders can be unbelievably simple.
Despite being ignored by condescending neurologists, we were able to convince Bobby’s parents to try an alternative route.
The rewards were outstanding.
But it’s sad in a way because I wonder how many other seizure sufferers are not being informed about some of these basic root causes?
Perhaps a simple dietary change could make all the difference to them, too.
Of course, it would be inaccurate and completely misleading to suggest that everyone’s epilepsy is caused by gluten.
The bottom line is that there are many potential epilepsy triggers, some of which definitely do require neurology experts and ongoing medical treatment.
But when simple underlying causes exist, we feel it’s wise to at least explore these simple options before resignation to a lifetime of (potentially unnecessary) medications.
Epilepsy is the tip of the iceberg
The last 15-20 years has seen an astonishing amount of published research on the digestive system’s ability to affect far-flung reaches of the body.
Problems in the digestive tract can and do contribute to some weird illnesses, as we’ve seen in this case study.
Other symptoms and diseases with a digestive connection include:
- Headache and migraine
- Chronic pain – arthritis, fibromyalgia
- Low energy levels (including fatigue)
- Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Brain fog and poor memory
- Behavioural disorders such as ADD and ADHD
- Skin disorders
- Menstrual disorders
- … and more
For sure, digestion imbalance is not the only reason for these symptoms and disorders, but it is certainly one of the main factors.
Getting a thorough digestive assessment done at home
If you’re not too proud to provide a stool sample, assessing your digestive system is easy and begins with a stool test.
You do it at home using a kit that’s mailed to your door.
It couldn’t be easier, really. You just follow the instructions, provide the sample and return it to the lab.
No more than a few days later, your results come back telling you where the problems lie.
As you’ve seen from this case study, the results are worth their weight in gold.
I don’t know about you, but if I was unwell with digestive symptoms or even symptoms elsewhere in my body, I’d want to know why.
Nobody can force you to do it – the decision has to come from you because nobody else is waking each day committed to optimising your health.
Taking the first step can be tough, but we’re here to support you all the way.
We’ll interpret the test result for you, tie them in with your health history and current condition, and then consult with you on what all the information reveals.
You’ll finally know what’s going on and what’s been making you feel under the weather for so long.
You can then set about taking concrete action steps to restore your digestive function and feel great again in both body and mind.
Finally, if you know of anyone else who could benefit from this information, please share it. After all, you could change their life.
Dave Hompes & Dr. James Walker.