Food Issues & Epilepsy
This is the transcript for my lecture at the 2007 NAVC (North American Veterinary Conference) in Orlando. It was the second hour that followed a talk on food intolerance in general. This speech on epilepsy briefly covers most aspects of the “syndrome” we call epilepsy and introduces the role of viruses in the development and perpetuation of idiopathic epilepsy.
FOOD INTOLERANCE, EPILEPSY, AND “THE G.A.R.D.”
John B.Symes, D.V.M.
Beltline Animal Hospital, PC
One of the earliest and most dramatic findings in my seven years of research into these food-related issues was the phenomenal response to elimination diets in those suffering from idiopathic epilepsy. In my initial study of celiac disease, I came across accounts of epileptic children with gluten intolerance showing significant improvements when placed on gluten-free diets. As most epilepsy in pets is considered “idiopathic” in the veterinary literature, this caught my attention. I also read that MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame had been identified as seizure triggers in children with epilepsy. It did not take long for me to see that gluten was absolutely loaded with the parent non-essential, neurostimulating amino acids glutamate (glutamic acid) and aspartate (aspartic acid). “Could it be that simple?” I asked myself. “Could the brain be too unhealthy in some individuals to handle these amino acids in common foods? Could the “bound” forms in those food sources do to those individuals what the “free” and concentrated forms found in common food additives do?” I came across the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock (Excitotoxins- The Taste That Kills) in which he clearly states that MSG and aspartame have been linked to numerous neurological conditions, including migraines, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative diseases. “But could the bound forms in food really do the exact same thing?” was my question.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, soy, and corn- as well as other foods rich in these two amino acids. But what do these phenomenal responses say about the true cause of idiopathic epilepsy?
Well, what do we know about epilepsy? It 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 2 and 14 years and then again after 65. Seizures usually start in the dog between 6 months and 6 years. The age of onset and the fact that developing countries have a much higher incidence than developed ones suggest an “opportunistic” disease state to me, one that preys upon an immature or inefficient immune system. And yet, the majority of epileptic cases are still classified as “idiopathic”.
Fact- there are over 20 viruses that have been shown to cause seizures in people, including many that are ubiquitous and known to have latent states, with Epstein Barr, 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. My Website goes into great detail as to why I am convinced of this.
So, if viruses are the true cause of idiopathic epilepsy, where do the “big 4” foods come into the picture? One of the key points that my research revealed is that the “big 4” (gluten, casein, soy, and corn) are the main foods that induce villous atrophy of the duodenum, the principle lesion found in celiac disease. This is a crucial fact to grasp because that particular area of bowel has the vital role of absorbing many 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. The brain, liver, immune system, and every other organ and enzyme system could suffer when this sort of chronic malabsorption takes place. And the celiac experiences it all. That is why I often refer to the duodenum as “Pandora’s Box”…damage it and we unleash the plagues that await us.
And, why these are the main four foods that damage this area is equally fascinating. These are the only four foods that we consume from which adhesives are made, with gluten and casein being used to make industrial glues and bases for paint. Casein, which makes up 80% of the protein fraction of cow’s milk, is the protein from which Borden makes Elmer’s glue. As most of you know, powerful super-glues are made from soy with which much of your car is assembled. But the best they can do with corn adhesives is to put cardboard boxes together with it. And in examining these four foods, it is interesting to note that corn is the best tolerated.
A good example of a secondary problem resulting from this villous damage is 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. Thank Goodness some is absorbed sublingually. And serotonin is not only a mood moderator but plays a role in moderating the neurostimulating effects of glutamate at the synapse. I certainly believe that serotonin deficiencies play a vital 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.
The fascinating thing to see is that these four gut-damaging foods are also the leading dietary sources of the non-essential, neurostimulating amino acids, glutamate and aspartate. They are also rich in tissue-damaging lectins, food allergens, and estrogens. I’ve come to understand that this is no coincidence. “Lectin” is the term given to antibody-sized glycoproteins that occur in nature, being 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 are 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. Dr. D’Adamo based his eating-for-your-blood-type work on lectins, noting that certain blood types were more prone than others to the different glycoproteins of dairy, wheat, soy, and corn.
On that note, how does a cell know which is the appropriate response to this non-living entity? I contend that it is the viruses in that cell that determine the response. These viruses can force that cell to adapt or they can make that cell grow out of control, which we call tumor formation, a process that I believe is the viruses’ ultimate adaptation. The role of lectins helps to explain much about the celiac’s medical history, including their staggering rates of immune-mediated diseases and certain cancers.
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. As I mentioned in the first hour, I found a study a few years ago that found our children who get cow’s milk in the first five days of life had a 40-50 times higher rate of asthma, type 2 diabetes, and juvenile onset rheumatoid arthritis. My study of lectins certainly supported this and I recommend everyone learn as much about these antibody-sized glycoproteins as possible. And 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 have their hand in a wide range of immune-mediated disorders. The estrogens these foods contain add significantly to the problem, as estrogens are both inflammatory and immune suppressive.
But for the topic of epilepsy, I will focus on the glutamate content. The foods richest in glutamate are the gluten grains (wheat, barley, and rye), dairy products, beans and legumes (especially soy and peanuts), nuts and seeds, and foods prepared with the “free” form known as MSG. Meats are also rich in glutamate content but alone do not do any intestinal harm. It is the combination of the villous atrophy, damage to the cells that covert glutamate to glutamine, and the rich glutamate content of the “big 4” that distinguish 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.
As I mentioned, I have been treating epileptic veterinary patients for several years employing a glutamate/ aspartate-restricted diet (now known as “The G.A.R.D.”) with phenomenal success. In fact, I have yet to have a case that did not show significant improvement, most of which stopped seizing within 48 hours and only had recurrences when the owners were non-compliant. My (free) Internet consultations during those years have generated some fascinating human testimonials by those who have applied these principles on their own. Both children and adults have responded dramatically, just as my early study about celiac epileptics suggested.
One extremely important personal discovery was a seizure pattern of the un-medicated epileptic dog, which showed that the typical interval between eating a high glutamate meal and having a seizure was 4-6 hours (as opposed to a 30 minutes to an hour interval seen when people ingested the “free” forms, MSG and aspartame.) This 6 hour lag time is consistent with the effects these same foods have on the human “insomniac”, who eats dinner and dessert at 7-8 PM and awakens each night at 1-2 AM. The parallels are obvious.
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 to 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” are vitally involved in ADHD, migraines, pain syndromes (e.g. fibromyalgia) and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer’s. Again, Dr. Blaylock has pioneered much of this work. Now 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 overuse of symptomatic medication and we have a recipe for disaster. Our current medical dilemma really should be no mystery at all.
And the real problems begin in “Pandora’s Box”. The “big 4” are the “Who’s Who” of unhealthy foods and celiacs are the “martyrs”, showing the world just how bad things can get when we eat something that our body no longer wants. In the sensitized individual, these 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, the gluten grains, dairy and soy are also suppliers of medically significant amounts of dietary estrogens, which can be both chronically inflammatory and immune suppressive- a deadly combination when viruses are in play. Their role 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 the brain with lectins and excitotoxins (once the brain has become adequately diseased) clearly precipitates the seizures seen in idiopathic epilepsy. I now view epilepsy as a “syndrome” but these trouble foods have their hand in multiple aspects of that syndrome. And dramatic recoveries can occur when the “big 4” are eliminated from the diets of afflicted individuals. 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 painfully clear to me that a proper diet has 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.
John B. Symes, D.V.M. (aka “Dogtorj”)