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Hot yoga and epilepsy: Can it help, other natural options

One potential benefit of yoga is that it can reduce stress levels. Since stress can be a trigger for epileptic seizures, some regard yoga as a potential therapeutic option for this condition. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of any type of yoga as a treatment for epilepsy.

A 2017 study states that there is not enough strong evidence regarding the effectiveness of yoga as a sole intervention for epilepsy and that people should only consider the practice in combination with antiepileptic drugs.

A 2017 review similarly stated that yoga could be an effective complementary therapy for people who are already taking medical treatment for neurological disorders.

Contrastingly, a 2020 review found that yoga significantly improved quality of life in people with refractory epilepsy, with the treatment performing better than no therapy and other behavioral treatments.

Yoga may provide health benefits that could help people with epilepsy to manage their condition. In particular, yoga may help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can trigger epileptic seizures in some people.

A 2021 review noted that yoga may lead to the following neurobiological changes:

  • Enhancement of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and serotonin levels, and a reduction in norepinephrine levels: These effects can improve mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Increases in overall brain activity and regulation of electroencephalogram (EEG) signals: These effects can improve attention and information processing, and reduce anxiety.
  • Anatomic changes in various brain regions: These changes mostly occur in the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that regulates behavioral and emotional responses.

A 2018 study on the effects of yoga in children with epilepsy found that using yoga as an additional therapy led to a cessation in seizures and a significant improvement in EEG readings at 6 months.

According to a 2017 review, stimulation of the vagus nerve may help to improve seizures in people with epilepsy. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and responsible for regulating numerous bodily functions and reflex actions.

A 2016 review notes that some yoga practices directly stimulate the vagus nerve. However, no study has yet revealed a direct association between these practices and a reduction in epileptic seizures.

Bikram yoga is a form of hot yoga that may offer several health benefits.

A 2018 study found that people who participated in a 16-week Bikram program reported significant improvements in anxiety and perceived stress. As such, Bikram yoga may be beneficial for people who experience stress-induced epileptic seizures, though researchers have yet to investigate this possibility.

Learn more about hot yoga here.

While generally safe, hot yoga does carry some heat-related health risks. Examples include:

People who have cardiovascular health conditions or a history of heatstroke should discuss with a doctor before trying hot yoga.

The heavy sweating that occurs during a hot yoga session can also potentially lead to dehydration. As a result, it is important for people to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water before, during, and after a hot yoga session.

Some people with epilepsy may be sensitive to heat. In 2020, the Epilepsy Society in the United Kingdom conducted a survey investigating the impact of excessively high temperatures on seizures. The survey found that unusually hot weather was associated with an increase in seizure activity among people with uncontrolled epilepsy, and breakthrough seizures among some people with well-controlled epilepsy.

Antiseizure medications are the standard treatment for managing epilepsy. However, many people living with epilepsy incorporate complementary therapies to help alleviate their symptoms. Some examples include the following.

Exercise

According to a 2015 review of epilepsy and physical exercise, aerobic exercise is safe for most people with epilepsy and may help to reduce comorbidities, such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

A 2022 meta-analysis investigated the effects of different physical training methods on epilepsy. It found that both resistance and aerobic exercises helped to reduce the occurrence of seizures in people with epilepsy.

Diet

A growing number of studies suggest gut microbiota plays an important role in neurological diseases.

A 2021 review reports that the ketogenic diet can alter the gut microbiome in a way that may help to decrease seizure activity. The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet that encourages the body to derive its fuel from stored fats as opposed to carbohydrates.

Learn more about the ketogenic diet here.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Vitamin B6 deficiency may cause or worsen seizures. It occurs mainly in newborns and infants with hard-to-control seizures.

Low levels of minerals such as sodium, calcium, and magnesium can cause an electrolyte imbalance and may alter brain activity in a way that worsens seizures.

Doctors may also give extra doses of certain minerals to help prevent side effects associated with the long-term use of antiseizure medications.

Herbal supplements

Some people may wish to try herbal supplements as a way of managing their epilepsy or alleviating the symptoms. However, the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) does not monitor herbal supplements. Additionally, some supplements can interact harmfully with other medications a person is taking. As such, people should always consult a doctor before taking any kind of supplement.

People should also be aware that there is also a lack of scientific research investigating the safety and efficacy of herbal supplements for epilepsy.

Vagus nerve stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) involves using an implanted device to send mild, calibrated electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. This sends signals to the brain that can help to prevent seizures or decrease their severity.

A 2019 review found that 50-60% of people who underwent 2–4 years of VNS therapy for epilepsy experienced a 50% reduction in the frequency of their seizures.

Stress management and relaxation techniques

Stress is a common trigger for seizures among many people with epilepsy. Stress also worsens psychiatric comorbidities, such as depression and anxiety.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, almost 90% of people who manage their stress believe it reduces their risk of seizures.

A 2018 study investigated whether learning stress reduction techniques could reduce seizure frequency in people with epilepsy. In this study, one group practiced the stress reduction technique (SRT) “progressive muscle relaxation,” which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups while performing breathing techniques. A second group practiced the SRT “focused attention,” which involved a combination of physical and mental activities.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation was associated with a 29% reduction in seizures, while practicing focused attention was associated with a 25% reduction in seizures. There was no significant difference between the two groups.

Learn more about natural remedies to reduce anxiety.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is an approach that helps people gain increased awareness of the physiological changes within their bodies to the extent that they can take control of certain physiological functions. The approach may be beneficial for people with epilepsy. It may help a person recognize when a seizure is coming on and prevent it from occurring.

A 2018 study found that biofeedback significantly reduced seizure frequency in people with drug-resistant temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). The study used a form of biofeedback involving galvanic skin responses (GSRs), which involves the autonomic activation of sweat glands within the skin.

Acupuncture

Some people also consider acupuncture as a complementary therapy for epilepsy. The hypothesis is that acupuncture alters the activation of the vagus nerve and other aspects of the parasympathetic nervous system in a way that reduces seizure frequency.

A 2021 study found that people with TLE who received acupuncture experienced a significant reduction in seizures compared to people who received no treatment. However, since this study was not placebo-controlled, it is not clear whether the effects are due to the acupuncture itself or the psychological effect of receiving a treatment.

Learn more about natural remedies for epilepsy.

Limited scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of hot yoga or any form of yoga as an alternative treatment for epilepsy. However, research suggests that yoga may be an effective complementary therapy for people who experience stress-induced seizures.

Anyone considering incorporating hot yoga into their treatment plan should be aware of the risks involved. Evidence suggests that excessively hot temperatures can increase seizure activity in some people with epilepsy.

Other natural complementary therapies that may help to reduce the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures include aerobic exercise, vagus nerve stimulation, and biofeedback therapy. A person can discuss the various options with a doctor to determine which complementary treatments may be best suited to their needs.

Learn more about epilepsy and seizures in our content hub.

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