Often in a less structured way, the elements of mind control can play an important part in many alternative therapies. Just by feeling more relaxed, people can often ward off a seizure; or they may consciously use them as distraction. Alternative therapies can also be very helpful in giving people a sense of control over their own lives, their treatment and their epilepsy.
Certain aromatherapy oils such as ylang ylang, lavender and camomile are usually viewed as relaxing, which together with a soothing massage may be enough to ward off a seizure. Aromatherapy is also one of the few alternative therapies which has come under scientific scrutiny. Patients in Birmingham University’s Seizure Clinic were asked to choose an oil that appealed to them and if necessary were taught to relax using massage with this oil.
They were then taught to associate feeling relaxed with the smell of the oil in order to create a kind of protective memory cache to dip into at times of stress when a seizure seemed to be pending. By creating a memory link between the smell of the oil and the state of relaxation, smelling the oil at a later date would help people recall feeling relaxed. Patients also learned to use self-hypnosis or visualization techniques which remind them of the relaxing ‘smell memory’ of the oil, and the relaxed state it evoked.
It’s thought that the smell of the oils works on the olfactory (smell) centers in the temporal lobes of the brain, which in turn affect the brain’s limbic area, involved in the senses, mood control, instinctive behavior, and emotions.
Audits of the results of using this specialized form of aromatherapy have been encouraging and do suggest that some people (if they practice and if they have the right kind of epilepsy with the right kind of warnings) can use this technique as a self-control measure. A few patients have been able to lose their seizures. Once learned, the technique seems to continue to be effective. The unit is currently researching an observation that possibly one or two aromatherapy oils, particularly jasmine, may have anti-epilepsy properties; this research is in its very early stages.
However, there is no reason why you could not benefit from the relaxing effects of aromatherapy massage. Just be aware that some aromatherapy oils are thought to stimulate the brain and seizure activity and should be avoided by people with epilepsy – they include hyssop, rosemary, sweet fennel and sage. Rosemary, for example, contains camphor which was used – apparently successfully – in the seventeenth century in Switzerland, England and Germany to treat mania by producing convulsions. If you do visit an aromatherapist, make sure she or he knows you have epilepsy.
Other remedies which have been tried by people with epilepsy include acupuncture (with acupressure and Shiatsu), Traditional ChiВnese Herbal Medicine (TCHM), herbal and homeopathic remedies, and reflexology. While there is very little scientific evidence to support these as remedies, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people find them beneficial, though cost may be a limiting factor, and it is important to check a practitioner’s qualifications as far as possible. Always inform a practitioner that you have epilepsy, and never discontinue anti-epileptic drugs on a practitioner’s advice without your usual doctor’s supervision.