In those who suffer from migraine headaches and seizures, anything that can help to reduce the number of attacks they have is a welcome addition. Clearly lifestyle and supplementation play a strong (if not stronger) role in the management of both migraine headaches and seizures along with the mainstream medical approach of pharmacological management. For many sufferers, this information is rarely shared by their physicians.
Before we illuminate today's brain protecting nutrient, we need to cover a little basic physiology. Those of you with very good memories will undoubtably recall that the cells of our organs are made up of a lipid bilayer. Consider our membranes as sort of a fatty moat made up of bunches of molecules that look like a head with legs. On the outsides of both sides of the moat we have the heads, which are soluble in water. The legs that dangle from the heads face toward the center of the moat, meeting each other in the center. These legs are made up of fats that do not dissolve in water.
All by itself, not much can pass through this moat. Things that dissolve in water can make it past the heads, but not the legs in the center. Things that are fat soluble can't make it past the heads to get into the moat at all. A relatively impenetrable moat.
But things still need to get in and out of the cell. The cell needs to get messages in and out, it needs nutrients in and out and things manufactured inside the cell need to get outside of the cell.
The cell does this through the use of pores embedded in the membrane. Some go all the way through the moat, some only go partway. An important factor of how well messages are transmitted, or NOT transmitted, is the health of the cell membrane. Lower quality fats (such as trans fats) will impede healthy cell communication.
On the flip side, higher amounts of healthier fats in the cell membrane ensure that messages that are supposed to be passed along are passed along. Overall, it just makes for a healthier, happier cell.
What does this mean for a condition like epilepsy? Seizures and migraine headaches can occur when a cell is not healthy enough to communicate effectively with its neighbor. This can mean that an inhibitory neuron (that shuts down its neighboring cell) may not be effective at calming a connecting cell. Or, it could mean that an individual brain cell fires before it is supposed to fire, beginning a cascade of wild messages that trigger a headache or a seizure.
A recent study in the March issue of Epilepsy and Behavior demonstrated that the fish oil DHA was able to lower seizure rates. The study was small and non-randomized, but is consistent with our understanding of what triggers seizures as well as prior studies.
Of the ten people in the study receiving 1,000 mg of DHA, 6 had a reduction in the number of seizures. One patient had a marked reduction in seizure activity. Overall, the reduction in seizure activity was 16%. Quite an accomplishment for something as safe and inexpensive as fish oils.
Of course, the big question is, why had fish oils not been a recommendation prior to this study? Even that single patient with the marked reduction in seizure activity could've had a massive impact on his or her quality of life by such a simple intervention long before this study.