Idiopathic Epilepsy – The Dietary Solution and the Role of the G.A.R.D.
In the year 2000, I made an amazing discovery while researching my personal diagnosis of celiac disease: Epilepsy often responds dramatically to gluten-free diets. After twelve years of research in this area, I developed an elimination diet (The G.A.R.D.) that yields astounding results in the afflicted individual.
Below is the transcript of a lecture given during the North American Veterinary Conference in January of 2013. Of course, I love to talk more than write so “you really had to be there”. But…this paper covers most of the important points, with the exception of a few new items I added to the PowerPoint in the days immediately preceding the talks. For example, the science behind wheat’s harm is in a dynamic state and we are learning more and more every day exactly why today’s wheat is harmful for everyone and every living thing that consumes it.
I will be writing more about WGA (wheat germ agglutinin) and the science of epigenetics in the near future. In the meantime, Google those terms for more insight into how wheat and the other members of the “big 4” do their harm as well as how and why we react so negatively when these inflammatory proteins (lectins) enter the bloodstream and travel to the far reaches of our body.
Hope this helps,
Idiopathic Epilepsy – The Dietary Solution and the Role of The G.A.R.D.
John B.Symes, D.V.M.
Beltline Animal Hospital, PC
One of the earliest and most interesting findings in my twelve years of research into food-related health issues was the dramatic response to elimination diets by those suffering from idiopathic epilepsy. In the initial study of my own celiac disease, I read accounts of epileptic children with gluten intolerance showing significant improvements when placed on gluten-free diets. As most recurrent seizures in pets are still considered “idiopathic” in the veterinary literature, this caught my attention and I dove into a study of the nutritional aspects of epilepsy.
In my initial research, I found that MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame (aspartic acid) had been incriminated as major seizure triggers in people with epilepsy. It did not take long for me to see that gluten was absolutely loaded with the two non-essential neurostimulating amino acids – glutamate (glutamic acid) and aspartate (aspartic acid) – that are the parent proteins in MSG and NutraSweet, respectively.
“Could it be that simple?” I asked myself. “Could the brain be too unhealthy in some individuals to handle these amino acids when present not only in food additives but also in common foods? In other words, could the “bound” forms in food sources do to those individuals what the “free” and concentrated forms found in MSG and aspartame were doing?” I came across the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock (author of Excitotoxins- The Taste That Kills) in which he clearly states that MSG and aspartame had been linked to numerous neurological conditions, including migraines, epilepsy, and a myriad of neurodegenerative diseases. “But…could the bound forms in food really do the exact same thing?” was my question. Surprising to me, Blaylock had not addressed this issue in his work.
This seemingly novel question was quickly answered with a resounding “Yes!” The very first epileptic dog I put on a gluten-free diet stopped seizing within 48 hours. Surpassing my newfound expectations, every single case of idiopathic epilepsy (and even some cases of brain tumors) that I put on a gluten-free diet had a significant response. And with a little more research, I was able to determine what was required to completely halt the seizures in those that did not respond as well as I had come to expect.
There were a number of other culprits to be identified – namely casein (from cow’s milk), soy, and corn – as well as other foods rich in these two problematic amino acids. But what do these phenomenal responses say about the true cause of idiopathic epilepsy?
What Do We Know About Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition worldwide. This is also true in dogs. 50 million people are afflicted with epilepsy at any given time. In humans, epilepsy typically strikes between two and 14 years and then again after 65. Seizures usually start in the dog between six months and six years of age. The age of onset and the fact that developing countries have a much higher incidence than already developed ones suggest that epilepsy is an “opportunistic” disease state, preying upon an immature or incompetent immune system. And yet, the majority of epileptic cases are still classified as “idiopathic”.
Fact: There are more than twenty viruses that have been shown to cause seizures in people, including many that are ubiquitous and known to have latent states, with Epstein Barr and other Herpes viruses, influenza, Coxsackie, measles and mumps being among them. Now I do not plan to turn this into a virology lecture but will simply state that I am personally of the opinion that chronic latent viruses which have an affinity for glial cells are the main underlying “cause” of idiopathic epilepsy. These viruses are integral in the development of epilepsy but do not act alone. The range in age of onset suggests that having the virus alone is not adequate to for epilepsy to occur. As is the case with many of the ailments that afflict us and our pets, epilepsy is a syndrome with multiple factors coming together to produce the condition.
Epilepsy and the “Big 4”
So…if viruses are the main culprit in idiopathic epilepsy, where do the “Big 4” foods come into the picture? One of the key points that my research revealed is that gluten grains, casein, soy, and corn are the main foods that induce villous atrophy of the duodenum and jejunum, the principle lesion found in celiac disease. This is a crucial concept to grasp because those particular segments of bowel have the vital role of absorbing most of our essential nutrients, including calcium, iron, iodine, B complex, vitamin C, zinc, copper, magnesium, and much more.
How hard is it to imagine the far-reaching and potentially devastating effects of the villous damage induced by these foods? In fact, there is no tissue or bodily function that does not depend on these nutrients for optimal performance and would not suffer from their absence. The brain, liver, immune system, and every other organ and enzyme system can and does suffer when this sort of chronic malabsorption takes place. And the celiac individual experiences it all. That is why I often refer to the small intestine as “Pandora’s Box”. Damage it and we unleash the plagues that await us.
How these four foods damage this area is equally fascinating. Interestingly, these are the only four foods that we consume from which adhesives are made, with gluten and casein being used to make industrial glues, resins and bases for paint. Casein, which makes up 80% of the protein fraction of cow’s milk, is the protein from which Borden originally made Elmer’s glue. But…powerful super-glues are made from soy with which much of your car is assembled. The rear view mirror of most cars is fastened to the windshield by a soy-based super-glue. However, the best they can do with corn adhesives is to put cardboard boxes together with it. And in examining the damage these four foods do, it is interesting to note that corn is the best tolerated.
Secondary problems result from this villous damage including the formation of multiple food allergies and reduced serotonin production. 98% of the body’s serotonin is produced by the enterochromaffin cells that line that same area of gut that is damaged by the “big 4”. The other two percent is produced by the brain itself from tryptophan. However, in both areas, B complex is utilized as a coenzyme to make that conversion. But where is that B complex absorbed again? Yes, B complex is absorbed primarily by the duodenum and jejunum. Fortunately, for those with food intolerance, some B vitamins are absorbed sublingually. Serotonin is not only a mood moderator but also plays a role in moderating the neurostimulating effects of glutamate at the synapse. Thus, serotonin deficiencies can play a role in the severity of epilepsy. Celiacs are notoriously low in this vital hormone, as illustrated by their depression, bleeding tendencies, high rates of epilepsy, and severe immune-mediated diseases.
“Coincidentally”, these four gut-damaging foods are also the leading dietary sources of the non-essential, neurostimulating amino acids, glutamate and aspartate. The Big 4 are also rich in tissue-damaging lectins, histamine-provoking food allergens, and phytoestrogens. I’ve come to understand that this is no coincidence.
Lectin is the term given to antibody-sized proteins and glycoproteins of non-immune origin that occur in nature. These pro-inflammatory proteins are derived from foods, bacteria, and even our own cells. For example, the oligodendrocytes in our brain are capable of producing two different lectins, one that supports the neuron and one that can kill the neuron it serves.
The lectins that pertain to this discussion are those derived from foods and the astute reader already suspects that the main players would be those derived from the Big 4 – gluten grains, dairy products, soy, and corn. All complex cells have glycoprotein receptors on their outer cell wall, to which “dock” things like antibodies, viruses, and lectins. When a lectin docks to a receptor, any one of ten different reactions can take place, from cell death to tumor formation. In between are inflammatory reactions, the production of hormones, and changes in the cell wall’s permeability. Dr. D’Adamo based his eating-right-for-your-blood-type work on lectins, noting that certain blood types were more prone than others to react negatively to the different glycoproteins of dairy, wheat, soy, and corn.
How Does the Cell Know?
How does a cell know which is the appropriate response to this non-living challenge called a lectin? I contend that part of the cell’s response is determined by living entities – viruses and bacteria – inside that cell. We know that viruses and bacteria move in and out of cells. We also talk about mRNA as having a “life” – being produced, processed, edited, and then degraded. Even the genetic material in our DNA “mutates”. Are mRNA and DNA “alive”? If so, how do they know what to do and when to do it? It’s no wonder that some scientists believe that viruses are the building blocks of all life and that our nuclear material is alive. How can we not classify it as such knowing what it does? I certainly believe viruses are alive even though they do not meet all of the criteria for our current definition of “living”.
Combined with the effect of intracellular bacteria on the mitochondria of cells, these viral entities can force that cell to adapt (metaplasia) or they can make that cell grow out of control, which we call neoplasia, a process that I now contend is simply the ultimate adaptation of the cell (“cocoon” formation for its own protection). A paradigm shift in our thinking has recently transpired and has come about through the understanding that dietary lectins play a major role in forcing this kind of adaptation. A review of the celiac individual’s medical history – developmental abnormalities, allergies, increased incidence of immune-mediated diseases, severe neurological disorders, and staggering rates of certain cancers – speaks volumes.
So once again, we see that the foods that are unhealthy for us are so in numerous ways and are practically screaming out to us to stop eating them, often beginning in childhood with colic, congestion, asthma and other allergies only to raise their ugly head as something much more serious in adulthood. In fact, I discovered a study a few years ago stating that children who got cow’s milk in the first five days of life had a 40-50 times higher rate of asthma, type-1 diabetes, and juvenile onset rheumatoid arthritis. My study of lectins certainly supported this and I began recommending that clients and colleagues learn as much about these antibody-sized proteins as possible. The allergies to these foods are primarily formed at the time the damage to the gut takes place as a prelude to the showering of the body with these damaging lectins, which then have their hand in a wide range of immune-mediated disorders and the chronic inflammation that precedes cancer. The phytoestrogens in dairy and soy add significantly to the problem, as estrogens are both inflammatory and immune suppressive.
Glutamate and Aspartate – The “Excitotoxins”
The initial focus of my work in epilepsy was on the glutamate (glutamic acid) content of foods and additives because a drastic reduction in the dietary levels of this neurostimulating amino acid yielded rapid and lasting results in both canine and human epileptics. Again, I discovered that this approach was effective long before I understood why this was such a powerful mode of therapy for epilepsy.
As I mentioned, my quest for answers began with reading that celiac children with epilepsy often had a dramatic reduction in their seizures when placed on gluten-free diets. It turned out that gluten was loaded with glutamic acid, the parent protein in MSG. However, it was clear that only a relatively small percentage of individuals eating gluten had epilepsy and that MSG did not affect everyone negatively (at least not overtly), so there had to be other factors in play. My investigation eventually led me to a better understanding of lectins, viruses, bacteria, toxins, vaccinations, cellular physiology (e.g. the synapse), hormones (e.g. thyroid, estrogen, progesterone), the blood brain barrier, and “genetics” all of which play a role in the development of a condition like epilepsy.
But…once the conditions for epilepsy have been established, the main trigger for seizures is very obvious – the consumption of high glutamate foods. I focused my therapeutic approach to epilepsy on the identification and restriction of those foods that were rich in glutamic acid, which are always rich in aspartic acid as well. Interestingly, the foods that were the most abundant in glutamate turned out to be all of the foods that were problematic in other regards – the gluten grains (wheat, barley, and rye), dairy products, and legumes (especially soy and peanuts) along with a few that were not normally an issue, such as nuts and seeds. Of course, foods prepared with the “free” form of these excitotoxins (MSG and aspartame/NutraSweet) were also on the hit list, especially for human epileptics. Meats are rich in glutamic acid but I found that they needed no restriction as they did not do the other harm that the trouble foods did. It became clear that it was the combination of the malabsorption from villous atrophy, the lectin damage to cells (e.g. intestine, liver, neuron, and glial), and the rich glutamate content of the Big 4 that distinguished them as the main culprits.
I have done my homework, finding sites that list the glutamate and aspartate content of common foods and making tables and charts to give to interested parties, mainly to illustrate the fact that the main food allergens are also the culprits here, while the universally healthy food-namely fruits and veggie- are lowest in these non-essential amino acids. Some things do make sense.
I have been treating epileptic veterinary patients for over a decade now employing this elimination diet, which I dubbed The G.A.R.D. – the Glutamate & Aspartate-Restricted Diet – and have done so with phenomenal success. In fact, I have yet to have a case that did not exhibit measurable improvement. Many cases of canine idiopathic epilepsy stopped seizing within 48 hours and only had recurrences when the owners were non-compliant. My (free) Internet consultations over the years have also generated some fascinating human testimonials in cases who applied these principles. Both children and adults have responded dramatically, just as my early study about celiac epileptics suggested.
The Feeding-to-Seizure Interval
One extremely important personal discovery was a seizure pattern observed in the un-medicated epileptic dog in which the interval between eating a high glutamate meal and having a seizure was 4-6 hours (as opposed to the 30 minutes to an hour interval seen when people ingested the “free” forms, MSG and aspartame). I have found this to be quite consistent, even in some medicated individuals, although the use of most anti-seizure medications obscures this interval. This six hour lag time is consistent with the effect these same foods have on the human “insomniac”, who eats dinner and dessert at 7-8 PM and awakens each night like a shot at 1-2 AM. The parallels are obvious.
So…it takes 4-6 hours for the individual to ingest, process, and release the “bound” glutamic and aspartic acid in food and have those excitotoxins hit the neurons and their dysfunctional glial cells. However, drugs like Phenobarbital and diazepam serve to delay and obscure this interval by sedating these cells (making them less sensitive), thus buying the individual some time to clear the excitotoxins, glutamate and aspartate, from the system. In fact, some of the newer AEDs work by actually blocking the action of glutamate, suggesting that researchers know that excess glutamate is a major problem. I am still baffled that they understand this and are aware that MSG is a trigger seizure and yet do not emphasize the restriction of foods naturally rich in this excitotoxin. Perhaps it is the rapid employment of AEDs in humans and the subsequent obscurity of the eating-to seizure interval that has prevented them from making this meal-related connection.
The G.A.R.D. – Band Aid and Long-Term Solution
By applying The G.A.R.D., we put an immediate band-aid on the situation by dramatically reducing the glutamate load on the diseased neurons, liver, and intestinal cells. This has halted seizures, literally overnight, in otherwise refractory seizure patients. Again, I cannot over-stress how well this has worked. But the long-term recovery of the epileptic comes from the same restrictive dietary approach, as it allows the gut to heal and function better. This includes the return of proper nutrient absorption as well as the production of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that are vital to our health, especially to that of the central nervous system. That is why I now also refer to The G.A.R.D. as the “Gut Absorption Recovery Diet”.
Of course, epilepsy is not the only neurological disorder that is affected by the downward spiral created by these trouble foods. The excitotoxins play a major part in ADHD, migraines, insomnia, pain syndromes (e.g. fibromyalgia) and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer’s. Again, Dr. Russell Blaylock has pioneered much of this work. Imagine the brains of those individuals with food intolerance that have been afflicted by nutrient malabsorption their entire life. Then, throw in the deleterious effects of fast food, hydrogenated oils, and polluted environments while folding in our fast-paced lifestyles, lack of restorative sleep and proper exercise, and overuse of symptomatic medication. It is a recipe for disaster. Our current medical dilemma really should be no mystery at all.
The real problems begin in “Pandora’s Box”…the small intestine. The Big 4 – or “the four horsemen of our medical apocalypse” as I like to call them – are the “Who’s Who” of unhealthy foods. Celiacs are simply the “martyrs”, the glaring examples of food intolerance who show the world just how bad things can get when we eat something that our body no longer wants in it. In the sensitized individual, all these Big 4 foods can induce villous atrophy with the resultant malabsorption syndrome compromising the entire body including the brain, liver, and immune system. They also cause the release of histamine which increases the permeability of the blood brain barrier thereby allowing more of the excitotoxins into the brain. Furthermore, these foods are loaded with those harmful lectins on which Dr. D’Adamo has written volumes of great information. And last but not least dairy and soy are also suppliers of medically significant amounts of bioactive estrogens (isoflavones), which are both pro-inflammatory and immune suppressive, a deadly combination when chronic inflammation and viruses are in play. It should be no surprise that the role of isoflavones in breast cancer is well-established.
The four horsemen are wreaking havoc on countless lives and now we know exactly why. They are particularly nasty when it comes to neurological conditions, ranging from simple depression/chronic fatigue to severe neurodegenerative disorders. Their bombardment of a virus-laden brain with lectins and excitotoxins clearly precipitates the seizures seen in idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy is a syndrome and these trouble foods have their hand in multiple aspects of that syndrome. Dramatic recoveries can occur when the Big 4 are eliminated from the diets of afflicted individuals, illustrating the latter point.
However, epilepsy is just “the hook” as I like to term it. It is simply a glaring example of the vast array of conditions in which food intolerance has its hands. It has become abundantly clear to me that a proper diet has far more potential to prevent and treat disease – as well as extend life expectancy – than anything else under our immediate control.
Once again, we do have our health destinies in our own hands …much more so than we’ve ever believed and certainly more than we’ve ever been told.